Monthly Archives: September 2010

My favorite ‘Guy’ Movies

Looking back over this blog, it seems that I am getting far too serious. It’s time to lighten the mood a little.

So what is a “Guy Movie”? I once heard someone describe it as “…guns, bombs and Heather Locklear”. Shrewd, but missing the point. A Guy Movie is one that has all the elements that guys are interested in:

  • Conflict? Yes.
  • Heroes? Definitely.
  • Women crying? No, no, NO!
  • “Relationship” talk? Hell, no!
  • Romance? As little as possible – just enough to bring the womenfolk into the theater and keep them from leaving disgust.
  • Lots of memorable one-liners.

So here is my list. It is incomplete, but it is a start.

  • Gladiator: The king of Guy movies. Begins with lots of killing, ends with lots of killing, with lots of killing in between. Favorite quote: “Strength and Honor”
  • Apollo 13: A high-drama retelling of a true story with marvelous CGI (the Launch sequence was CGI, not NASA archived footage). You feel like you are in the capsule with three cold, desperate men as they go round the moon. Knowing how it ends does not seem to make any difference. Favorite quotes include “Failure is not an option” with the inevitable “Houston, we have a problem” coming in a close second.
  • Top Gun: What can I say? This movie has so many things wrong with it – Cheesy dialog, unrealistic video-game avionics, particularly bad acting, Tom “too-pretty-to-be-a-real-pilot ” Cruise, and Kelly “No-I-don’t-believe-she-has-a-PhD” McGillis, to name but a few – but it still comes up with the goods, thanks to the real star; the McDonnell-Douglas F-14 Tomcat . The flying sequences (first ten minutes, last ten minutes and a few short flying bits in between) are endlessly re-watchable, but most of the rest is fluff. Generally Favorite quotes: “I hate it when he does that”, and of course the excruciatingly unrealistic “I’ll hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by”. But the seminal “This is Maverick… remaining MIGs are bugging out and heading home.”, makes it all worth it.
  • Flight of the Intruder: “Top Gun” without Tom Cruise, the hot-dogging, and the “kissy bits”. Favorite quote: “Fighter pilots make movies. Bomber Pilots make History”. A great story, well told.
  • The Mask: I love this movie; Milady hates it. Jim Carrey plays… Jim Carrey. Favorite quote: “I will reveal my croissant. I will spread your pate. I will dip my ladle in your Vichyssoise!”
  • James Bond movies (aka “gadgets, guns, explosions and buxom wenches with silly names”), particularly the Connery or Moore offerings, such as Thunderball, You Only Live Twice (“she is very sexiful, is she not?”), The man with the Golden Gun (“That’s what I call power!” “That’s what I call trouble), The Spy who Loved Me (“Let’s get these wet clothes off, shall we?”) and Moonraker (“I believe he is attempting re-entry, Sir!”). Daniel Craig may be a more plausible Secret Agent, but I don’t want “plausible”, I want “entertaining”.
  • Peter Sellers Pink Panther Movies (particularly “…strikes again” and “Return of…”). Please take those godawful Steve Martin abortions outside… and shoot them..
  • Honorable mention: Raise the Titanic – poor casting, wooden acting, great plot, absolutely brilliant soundtrack by John “James-Bond-Soaring-Strings” Barry.

Did I miss anything?

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Not so “Premier”

We recently spent three nights at the Premier Inn St Austell (September 10-12).

We booked a twin room and a double room. What we got were two identical family rooms. Not a deal-breaker, but misleading, to be sure.

Observations:

  • No lift/elevator
  • Old-school keys, not electronic locks
  • No a/c, fans in rooms
  • The only CRT TV I have seen in a hotel room in years!
  • Staff asked for payment up front at check-in. This is highly unusual, and is a bad sign. If I see this again in future I will run the other way.
  • They make a big deal about pre-paying breakfast – but it is no cheaper, and the “convenience” is minor at best.
  • The staff were very helpful. I cannot fault them in any way.
  • Bathrooms were very nice. Shower was better than average. The shower gel dispenser dispensed too little (a common problem) and was situated at the wrong end of the bath.
  • No in-room phones. This was a big problem, as we had two rooms on different floors, and any communication involved running up and down stairs.
  • Free Wi-Fi was not working. When it is working they charged a shocking 10 per day. The weekly rate of 20 is far more reasonable) but HOTEL WI-FI SHOULD BE FREE!
  • One of the rooms (Room 6) smelled of damp.

Verdict: Six days previously, we had stayed at a Hampton Inn near O’Hare Airport before setting off for England. We loved it, and would stay again. Compared with that, this does not compare. Even though this place costs about the same, the Premier Inn St. Austell is more of a youth hostel with delusions of grandeur than a Hotel outright. We booked it because everything else in the area sold out first. Now we know why.

Conclusion: I will not willingly stay in a premier inn again if I had a choice. I will not even honor their name with capital letters. Perhaps they should spend a little less money on Lenny Henry and a little more on upgrading their facilities – particularly in touristy areas like this one.

in roomsin rooms

Memories of England

  • Fish, Chips and Cod Roe
  • Horribly expensive petrol (gasoline) – more than twice the price that it is in the USA. And remember that Britain is a net exporter of oil…
  • People all saying “Hiya” when they mean “Hello”. Wassup wid dat?
  • 3-ply toilet rolls! Yeah!
  • Insanely small cars
  • Eastern European men everywhere. Where did they all come from? (Eastern Europe, you idiot!)
  • The UK passport office is the most amazingly efficient branch of any Government that I have ever dealt with.
  • Nobody speaks English anymore. Not even the TV announcers, who now sound like a cross between East End wide boys and Australians.
  • Sharing a kebab with Milady at the Olympic Fish & Chip shop on Church Lane
  • UK security folks seem to be so much “nicer” than their US counterparts…. but that might be because I am a UK citizen. Time will tell…

Austell’s

Brett Camborne-Painter is, quite simply, the man.

With my mother’s seventieth birthday approaching, I was under pressure to come up with something special. We decided to take her to Cornwall for a few days.

I ran across this restaurant, Austell’s, on the TripAdvisor website, where it has many great reviews.  After checking out their website, I called the restaurant to make reservations. I spoke to a gentleman named Brett, who was very helpful. Turned out that he was both the proprietor and the chef. When I mentioned that I was calling from the US, he was most helpful in recommending places to stay and things to do in the area. When I mentioned my Mum’s birthday, he asked “Is there anything I can do to make the day more special for her?” He suggested a birthday cake, but since my Mum is not much of a cake person, I said I would get back to him. My wife suggested a trifle, a suggestion that met with his approval.

We spent Mum’s birthday touring the Lost Gardens of Heligan, where a good time was had by all, then we returned to our hotel and dressed for the evening. The restaurant was not hard to find, though the shopfront looks unprepossessing. Step inside, however, and a delightfully laid-out restaurant awaits.

When we arrived, the restaurant was empty. At first I was worried; an empty restaurant is usually a bad sign, but in this case, we had just beaten the rush. It turned out to be a good thing, as we were speedily ushered to the best table in the house, directly overlooking the food-prep area. Brett introduced himself and spent a little time getting to know us and offering his personal congratulations to Mum. Then we got to watch him at work.

For those of us who are not “foodies”, watching a good chef doing his thing is like watching an artist at work. While other members of the kitchen staff did the “grunt work”, he was at his station cutting, slicing, shaping and arranging food on plates with exceptional artistry. While all this was going on, Brett kept up a steady stream of banter, commentary and general friendly verbal abuse. The result was highly entertaining — I was particularly impressed with the way he “piped” mashed potatoes onto plates using an icing bag. What arrived at our table was almost too beautiful to eat.

So what about the food? Brett sources his ingredients locally wherever possible. I ordered the beef — which was delicious — while my wife ordered the duck. I am not overly fond of duck. Perhaps this is because most duck is greasy, or perhaps it is because I ran over a mother duck some years ago and never looked at them the same way after that. However, I tried some of Milady’s duck and was most impressed — it was wonderful, and menled in the mouth most satisfactorily. Looking back, I should have ordered the duck.

The meal was over too soon; not because it was not filling, but because when food tastes that good it is hard to stop. Then the piece de resistance, out came the trifle, replete with a blazing roman candle. Mum’s face was a picture.

The evening’s festivities went on merrily through the evening as the restaurant filled up. We did not want to leave, but like all good things, it had to end. I could not have wished for better.

The bill came to about £140 for four of us; that is a little higher than normal, but this was a special occasion. Expensive? Yes, but for “Dinner and a Show” worth every penny.

What heightened the experience for me was the joy he evidently bought to what he was doing; like a child playing with paints, he appeared to be in his element. Watching him work, I was reminded of a quotation by James A. Mitchener:

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.

Before setting up his little peanut stand out here in St. Austell’s, this dude studied in France and London under top chefs – and it showed. I don’t know if I will ever go that way again, but if I do, I will surely visiting Austell’s again, and highly and unreservedly recomend the place.

After all, Brett Camborne-Painter is, quite simply, the man.

Squabs

When you are hungry in a strange city, finding good food can be hard. Oh, sure, there are plenty of fast-food places to tempt your palate with first-class marketing and third-class food, but if you find yourself in search of something real that isn’t covered in batter, dipped in fat or smothered in salt or sugar.

We stumbled into this place, only a few miles south of Chicago’s O’Hare airport, purely by accident. We had booked into a nearby hotel and were hungry. A family-run restaurant, the appearance and decor are “lived-in”. If you are all about appearances, this place won’t impress — off to McDonald’s with you! However, if you are looking for good home-cooked food, this is a welcome change from the mass-produced, mass-marketed stuff out there.

My personal favorite is the “Greek Plate Dinner” — half a chicken on a bed of rice with a piece of pressed, toasted flatbread. We ordered one — with a side order of greek potatoes — to go.

We took it back to the hotel, and with their permission we set up and ate our meal in the breakfast area. We collected many intrigued looks from folks checking in, and I’m sure that the smell of roast chicken must have drove them nuts. The food was delicious.

We have been back there twice since then — once with family. All were impressed by the food. We will return.

http://www.squabsgyros.com

(and we did — twice more before the end of the year)

It’s official – I’m an idiot

Monday:

Milady and I are due to travel to Merry old England on Friday. We just found out that my passport expired a few weeks ago.

Bugger.

In a panic, I called the Passport office in the UK to find out my options. Things have changed; they have farmed out the onerous task of talking to the public to a third-party firm that requires a credit card payment. The call cost nearly $6. I don’t mind paying for Service, but that seems a little bit steep for answering a single question. Is this the future of Customer Service? I hope not, but to their credit, they answered speedily and did not leave me on hold – which may be worth a few dollars. They told me that my only chance is to get a travel document from the nearest Consulate, in Chicago. Fortunately we are flying out from there.

I called the Consulate; they returned my call, and a very nice chap by the name of Peter took my details and said that he needed about an hour to check my passport info and that he would get back to me.

Five hours went by with no call, so I called back and left another message. Peter called back and set up a meeting on Thursday morning.

Tuesday and Wednesday passed in a blur of Pack-o-mania. We had planned on leaving on Friday morning, but the Thursday morning appointment in Chicago means leaving on Wednesday… which means we have a day to pack instead of the three we were planning on. Milady hates packing – she says she would rather clean a house than pack a suitcase – but as usual she did a sterling job; we finally pulled out of the driveway at about 5PM on Wednesday, a mere two hours later than expected, and rolled into the hotel parking lot five hours later.

Thursday:

My first trip on the Blue Line (aka the “L”). At $2.25 per journey, it is surprisingly affordable, and a good example of tax dollars well spent. It was drizzling when we arrived, so we took a taxi from the station to the consulate; the driver seemed to be unwell; I did not ask for change.

When we arrived at the consulate, Peter was in a meeting, so we went for a walk down North Michigan Avenue. Lots of “fashionable” (i.e., bloody expensive and bloody useless), stores, and a Starbucks on every corner (all full of starving students camping out on the comfortable chairs).

And then it really started raining.

Peter called back, his meeting over. Before long we were at the Consular office; the staff there were very pleasant and before long I was clutching an Emergency Passport, good for this trip only, in my hot little hands. It sounds so James-Bond-esque, “Double-Oh-Seven, the wallies at the Foreign Office couldn’t get their fingers out in time, so the Consulate has issued you with an emergency passport. Now get out there and save the world, there’s a good chap.

Peter, you are my hero. And life goes on…