Thursday, January 31, 2008

Games night


Soho, London, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Here is a photograph I took yesterday that is completely unrelated to this post.

As I mentioned at the weekend Tinseltroos has discovered "Singstar", a karaoke game for the Playstation 2. The only problem was that we did not have a Playstation 2 so one had to be obtained. It turns out that second hand PS2s are incredibly cheap, you can get them for a little over thirty quid on eBay. T managed to get one of the smaller, more recent ones and it is a very dinky device.

Excitingly, not only is the hardware cheap but so is the software. This week eBay has furnished us with "Gran Turismo 4" (for me, mostly) and "We Love Katamari" for both of us. Last night was an extravaganza of videogaming at Schossadlerflug. I played "GT4" and "Star Wars - Battlefront" on my laptop whilst T played "Katamari" and "Singstar". I think the Katamari game is the highlight of the bunch. Games as idiosyncratic, beautiful and entertaining as it are few and far between. Everything about "We Love Katamari" is delightful. The music and graphic design are especially note-worthy. Tinseltroos is now threatening to knit herself a Katamari Prince. I can practice sucking less at "GT4" whilst she does this.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In Praise of Small Shops


R.G. Lewis, originally uploaded by bjmurphy234.

In these days of corporate imperialism, where every highstreet in every corner of the Western World is tending toward a scary amount of homogeneity I increasingly find myself cherishing those last bastions of individuality and good service. I was reminded of that this week when I received a 'phone call from R. G. Lewis, a camera shop in London, to whom I'd taken two pieces of camera kit for either modification or repair. Not only was the repair work done quickly and to a very high standard but the expense was reasonable and the personal service fantastic.

When I walked into the shop, the assistant recognised me from when I'd brought the camera in a week previously and so had no trouble finding my stuff. I'd been so impressed by R. G. Lewis' collective attitude that I'd bought my current camera from them at the end of last year. Having been to the other Leica shop in London where they'd been very snooty and extremely patronising to Tinseltroos, even though she has a masters in engineering and I am a dumb artist, I'd decided that the thought of handing over a lot of money (many, many weekends worth of overtime) to them felt wrong so it was lovely when I discovered Lewis's and they were so good and pleasant to deal with.

Here then is a little, very incomplete, list of shops in London that are a pleasure to spend money in and are a celebration of independent retailing:

R. G. Lewis
Les Senteurs
William Rose Family Butchers
Gosh Comics
Bates the Hatter
Pretty Traditional Greengrocer
The Neals Yard Dairy
Old Hat
Treadwells Bookshop
Peter Cook's Guitar World

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Kick Out The Jan(uary)s Motorscooters

Crochet/Knitty art by Anne Wilson

It's January compilation time. A new year demands a new playlist so here's what's tickling my fancy at the moment:

Escape From New York - John Carpenter
Peter Gunn - The Art of Noise (featuring Duane Eddy)
Flashlight Fight - The Go! Team (featuring Chuck D)
Pudpots - Nightmares on Wax
Be Easy - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
The House of the Rising Sun - The Animals
When Doves Cry - Patti Smith
Cradle Me- Tina Grace
The Valleys - Electrelane
Heirate Mich - Rammstein
Run to the Hills - Iron Maiden
Colossal - Wolfmother
Exercise 7 - Bent
Miss Modular - Stereolab
When the Levee Breaks - Yat Kha
Natureland - Amon Tobin
Nun Chuka Kata - Buckethead

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Curse The Internet


Nathan Barley anyone?, originally uploaded by macdermog.

I am in need of a new collective noun. I need to know what a packed mass of hipsters might be called. At present the best I can come up with is either "an hauteur" or "a pretension". Other suggestions are welcome.

I was presented with this knotty little problem because of a trip to my local coffee shop this afternoon. As I've worked both days this weekend I've been in serious need of caffeinated refreshment and as is usual I took a trip to Flat White, a lovely little coffee shop that's been making great coffee in Soho for about 2 years. I've been a customer of theirs practically since they opened.

I am used to seeing the same grizzled, battle-weary faces of post-production types like me who are pulling similarly ridiculous hours and are there for the same reason, i.e. to get a ten minute break from our workstations and to get a good cup of coffee. At the weekends you get a few others who have come to Soho shopping but it's normally still pretty civilised.

This has all changed thanks to the BBC. On Friday they ran this piece on their news website. I was talking to the guy who owns Flat White about it yesterday and he told me that the traffic to Flat White's website that this piece had generated was such that it had taken out their server on Friday afternoon. It appeared that Flat White had created a buzz for itself. Saturday seemed busier than usual in the cafe but today was unreal. I have never seen so many low-riding skinny-fit black jeans paired with white trainers, emo fringes and assorted keffiyeh knotted around skinny necks, desperately trying to out-cool one another with their 'phones, gadgets and apathetic disinterest. I felt suddenly trapped in an episode of Nathan Barley. To be surrounded by a cafe rammed with self-facilitating media nodes is pretty nasty.

My one saving grace was that because I am such a frequent customer the staff know me and this meant that once I'd fought my way through the massed ranks of trustafarians and put in my order I could then beat a hasty retreat outside to wait, knowing that when my coffee was ready I would be waved at through the window to come and collect my brew. I am hoping that the notoriously fickle venality of this new group of empty-headed toss-pots will last but a couple of weeks until the next hot place is annointed by their hive mind and they vacate, like a swarm of distressed-denim clad locusts. I am keeping my fingers crossed, I want my cafe back.

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Dictionary Corner

I heard a lovely neologism on the radio this morning. As is normal I awoke to the dulcet tones of Radio 4 and as it's a Sunday the show was Broadcasting House. During a piece about a new website which aims to help those who grow their own veg swap excess produce with like-minded souls they interviewed a fine fellow who chairs a South London Allotment Association. He concurred that such a scheme was probably a good idea as most gardeners end up with a surplus of produce at some time or other which they become increasingly desperate to offload. He describe the process of foisting unwanted extra veg on unsuspecting friends and relatives as "aggressive hospitality". I love this term. I have been guilty of a bit of this in the past, mostly with excessive baking and my mother certainly really likes to make sure I take some marmalade with me whenever I visit.

So when a neighbour fixes you with a steely gaze before pushing a carrier bag full of wind-fallen apples into your chest you at least have a term to describe what just happened.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another Missive from Dis

As, once again, this is a work themed weekend it's going to be a slow-news day. Instead I can fill you in on last night. We had a few friends over to Schossadlerflug. After pizza and beer it was karaoke time. T has discovered that there is a game series called Singstar for the Playstation 2 which has many themed disks of singalong pop classics, including a Bollywood edition which delighted Tinseltroos and Sisoftroos most of all. Everyone took a turn and fortunately there was a Johnny Cash number for me. As I've probably mentioned before I have a rather limited vocal range and it is in the bassy end of the audio spectrum. This proves problematic when trying to sing pop as there's very little in that register apart from The Man in Black. So another creaky version of "Ring of Fire" was called for. In the meantime I have more visual defects to make before I can go home.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Noises

video

So I didn't spend the evening playing Super Mario Galaxy after all. When I got home the guitars were staring at me with their shiny, new, silvery strings. I was also keen to try out a few different sound settings on my guitar amp simulator box thing. I found a nice bluesy backing track from a CD and layered three different guitar parts over it: one clean blues, one more hard rock and a bit of slide to finish it off. I also wanted to see also how GarageBand coped with all the different sounds and how well it mixed them down. It's completely improvised as you'll be able to tell but it's as much of a testing equipment piece as it is just me mucking about for the fun of it. I continue to be amazed at how good GarageBand is for a super cheapy piece of software. It automatically picks up when I connect the guitar amp simulator box thing and allows me not only to record from it without any latency but also sends all the audio back in to the wee box and out to the speakers so I can hear everything as I'm playing without having to use headphones. I remember trying to record anything was a huge exercise in heartache before it all went digital. Have to love technology and what it can do for you sometimes.

You can see, well hear, how I did in the "movie" above. For some reason Blogger won't let you upload just sound so I had to create a video using a still photo to go with it. Go figure.


Just call me Short-sighted Kumquat Atrocity. It's my new blues name.

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Hunting and Gathering


Gibson "Faded" SG, originally uploaded by TurdOnTheRun.

I had an unexpectedly pleasant evening last. I had planned on heading home after work and spending the evening honing my practically non-existant Mario Galaxy skills. This plan was altered after I told JJG, with whom I work, about the result of my lunchtime trip down Denmark Street. For those who don't know, Denmark Street is the centre of the music retail scene in London. There are many guitar shops and I had popped into one to buy myself some acoustic guitar strings (the last of my guitars to get restrung after Saturday's efforts) and also to get Tinseltroos some strings for her Strat. I'd foolishly forgotten to ask what gauge of string she liked before heading out on Saturday.

As is customary when visiting a guitar shop I had a little look round,just out of curiosity - you know? I knew that JJG had been looking for an SG with a Bigsby trem and there in front of me was a lovely Epiphone one, in the sale to boot. Having excitedly told him about this once back in the office we conspired to leave work at 6, grab Abe (another work chum) and head back to check it out.

This we did and JJG declared himself impressed. Then, he dipped his head and said he had to show us something. He took us over the road to another shop wherein a beautiful faded Gibson SG rested - just like in the photo above. The look on JJG's face was something akin to Tiny Tim's upon being presented with the enormous goose at the end of A Christmas Carol. He's going to have to save up some more pennies to have that one but he is clearly smitten. And he's going to have pay someone to put the tremolo arm on it too but he seems to consider such things trifling concerns.

After ogling we decamped to a pub with another of JJG's friends for a few beers and to chew the fat. I treated myself to fish and chips on my way home (I've finally tracked down a good chippie in my neighbourhood which is a major bonus in my book) and having munched my way through that and a cup of tea set about restringing the last of my guitars. I offered to do Tinseltroos' guitar too but she, weirdly, claims to like changing guitar strings so I left hers well alone.

And so to bed.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday at the V&A


In the café at the V&A, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Tinseltroos and I started today in a pretty lazy fashion. I microwaved the spare, frozen blueberry pancakes for breakfast (thank you Margaret, freezing them worked a treat) and by the time we'd eaten enough and got dressed it was noon. We walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum primarily to see the "Out of the Ordinary - Spectacular Craft" exhibit. I've posted a few photos of some of my favourites below:


Crochet/Knitty art by Anne Wilson

Inlaid Desk by Susan Collis

Wooden Flower Sculpture by Yoshihiro Suda


Now all that remains for the weekend is to cook ourselves some supper and maybe watch a movie. I may almost be able to face Monday tomorrow.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Action Saturday

Out of the Window at Work

As I worked all of last weekend I had a mountain of matters that needed attention. Poor Tinseltroos had to work this morning and she's off with friends for the rest of the day meaning that I, for the first time since Boxing Day, am left entirely to my own devices. Today I have:

  1. Paid some bills.
  2. Took a load of plastic to be recycled.
  3. Changed the strings on half the guitars in the flat - a job I truly hate.
  4. Cleaned the fretboard on one of said guitars.
  5. Located a local butcher and bought a porterhouse steak to test their quality.
  6. Pottered around the Ancient Greek galleries of the British Museum to refresh my memory.
  7. Took some camera equipment to be repaired and modified.
  8. Filed CDs and DVDs away in their binders.
  9. Cleaned the floor.
  10. Tidied the sitting room.
  11. Did some grocery shopping.
  12. Did tons of laundry.
  13. Did some pre-emptive location scouting for the movie I hope to be working on after Hellboy 2.
  14. Did some test work for the same film. Just playing with ideas.
It is now 6.30. I think I shall crack open a beer, cook my steak and have it with potatoes and salad and then I'll probably read awhile, perhaps watch Vanishing Point (the proper one, not the shitty remake) and then see if I can be bothered with the highlights of today's football matches before turning in. I like days that feel domestically productive; they allow me to relax completely, guilt free, for the rest of the evening.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blueberry Pancakes, Bacon and Maple Syrup

These were the pancakes I made from scratch. This is the second batch. Following Margaret's advice I'm freezing the (inevitable) excess pancakes. Yum.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Lazarus


So the laptop's alive again. Having died on Saturday morning it remained silent when it was plugged into the mains and no amount of pushing of power buttons and other reset tricks had any effect for two days. As a last gasp test I charged the battery over night so I was sure it was full and gave the power button one more prod this morning, just to confirm it was defunct and that my appointment with the "genius" would have to take place tonight. It coughed a bit, spluttered and woke up, very dazed and confused but definitely alive. After a few minutes of spinning pizza of death it set itself back to the state it was in when I put it to sleep on Friday night. How bizarre, for truly it rose again on the third day. Perhaps my Powerbook is holy? Even if this is the explanation I'm still going to keep the "genius" appointment as I want to know if this was a portent of bad things to come, or to put it another way: "Should I back my data up more often?"

This will mean going to the Apple Store and speaking with a self-appointed "genius". I really hate that place. I have used Macs for a few years now because I got utterly sick of the constant driver/update/crap engineering that I seemed to suffer with Windows and whatever hardware I tried it on. Until about 5 years ago it still seemed as if this was a better bet than Macs, which I'd always hated using before OS X came out. I really like OS X. I like its Unix underpinnings - an operating system I've been using for well over a decade and have therefore got very comfortable with plus the user-interface of OS X is very pleasant to use and I haven't had a lot of the compatibility issues that my last three Windows machines exhibited. However I hate the smug gittishness of the Apple brand, its advertising, its homogenously blander-than-bland modernist shops and the messianic fanboyish genuflection whenever Steve Jobs opens his cake-hole. I like Apple computers (until something better comes along), I do not like idolatry. This evening I shall have to at least pretend to be one of the "true faith" even if I'm actually profoundly agnostic on the matter.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rotten Apple


Epler i vann (apples in water), originally uploaded by Åsta.

Blogging will be light for the foreseeable future as my laptop died this morning. I can only really access the internet at work now and my employers, spoilsports that they are, expect me to do their bidding during work hours even on weekend work days like today.

I have no idea what's up with it. There is no action when you press power so I'm thinking it's a mechanical rather than software problem and power related rather than a poorly hard-drive. We will see what the "genius" at the "Genius Bar" advises when I can get an appointment to see one, which will be Monday at the earliest. I'm really hoping that the repair is cheap, I don't want to be buying a new computer at this moment.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Glitz


Pinewood Studios, originally uploaded by Nattydreadful.

I had to go up to Pinewood Studios yesterday for a meeting about an upcoming film project upon which I hope to be working. It's always an interesting experience because the reality of going to a film studio is so far removed from the popular perception as to be almost comical.

When you arrive you pull into a gate which looks like a mixture of a small rural airport departure lounge and Checkpoint Charlie. Here you exchange a series of pleasantries with the security personnel who come in two flavours: not really bothered and retired Stasi officer. Yesterday's guards were of the former type. Once you're through Checkpoint Charlie you're on the backlot itself. Our meeting was in the very glamourous sounding "Kubrick Building".

To get there we had to circumnavigate the 007 Stage, which is huge. The last time I was there was for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the whole building has burnt down and been rebuilt since then. It looked identical to me, but then I suppose there's a limit to the number of ways you can build a giant metal shed. The whole area feels like a downtrodden, disused airfield from the 70s. You have the hangars/sound stages and the backlot which is mostly a wasteground with the odd carpark and a lot of rubble and long grass.

The Kubrick Building itself looks like a dull school building we were disappointed but not surprised to discover. It's red brick and two stories with lots of large classroom sized rooms painted white and a bunch of tiny cubicled offices. There's nothing quite like the sight of a noted film director sat in standard-issue grey office cubicle pecking away at a computer with a look of boredom on his face to make you realise that 90% of indoor work is the same the world over regardless of what you actually do for a living.

Mind you, compared with Leavesden Studios, Pinewood is extremely glam. Leavesden, where they shoot the Harry Potter movies, is a converted engine factory. Only it's not very converted. In fact it's a massive, evil, diesel smelling tin shed outside Watford, a very hum-drum suburban town just outside London. At least Pinewood has the decency to be in the middle of the Hampshire countryside so the drive to and from is picturesque.

It's quite remarkable the power that mystery has over people. Pinewood don't do tours (there's bugger all to see so there'd be no point) and yet every day there are people taking photos of the entrance and asking if there is a public tour available. I will admit that when you're on a soundstage with a big set it is impressive for about 10 minutes. Then you realise it's cold, nothing's happening, they've only built the set to head height as we'll add the rest in post production and the place reeks of petrol, paint and other unsavoury chemicals. People say I'm cynical and jaded when I complain about being sent on-set. I say I'm realistic. I prefer being in a warm room, with people I like, in easy reach of a decent coffee and lunch. But perhaps that's just me.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Fat? Check. Sugar? Check.

Yesterday evening I made blueberry pancakes. I had not done this before and procuring the ingredients took a certain amount of resourcefulness in both transatlantic translation and actual location of supplies. The story begins last May when I, a sceptical Englishman arrived for the first time upon American soil. I had been told by American friends and friends who had visited America that a delight to tantalise the tastebuds was blueberry pancakes and bacon with maple syrup. I have never been one to mix sweet and savoury much and the prospect did not fill me with excitement. Still I was in a foreign land and when in Rome... So on our first morning's breakfast in the hotel I ordered their blueberry pancakes with bacon.

I was floored; amazed and incredulous. How could my life have been complete before this moment? They were extraordinary. I had them for several other breakfasts during our stay. I was in love. Upon our return to London I sought somewhere that could fulfill this new need I had, one of which I had not previously been aware. Finally I found that that stalwart Soho institution Balans did a very good pancake and bacon. When I was working all those weekends last year it was my Saturday morning treat to have breakfast in Balans before work. Blueberry pancakes, bacon and maple syrup helped to preserve my sanity.

Now I was filled with a desire to make my own. What could be better now I have weekends again than to make Tinseltroos and me these moreish treats? OK so she won't eat the bacon but the rest has to be good enough on its own, no? After considerable research I settled upon this recipe. I'm not quite sure why I picked it over the others but there was something about it. It had the ingredient I'd never heard of (we don't have "corn meal" here) and it seemed somehow the most authentic, as if such a thing were possible. Further probing of Wikipedia showed me that corn meal is the same thing as polenta and that we do have. We tracked some down and some proper maple syrup and finally last night I cooked them. The recipe did not specify how many it was intended to feed so I did my usual America recipe conversion and halved the quantities. I got it very very wrong. In future, when we are both absolutely ravenous I shall quarter the quantities and we will be well satisfied. That said the pancakes were a huge success and you don't have to be clairvoyant to realise what we'll be having for breakfast this coming Saturday.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Little Dreamer

I'm sure at some point in the past I must have mentioned that there is a small group of rock nuts with whom I used to work and together we swore that should Van Halen ever reform with Diamond Dave we'd go and see them in L.A? This all grew out of an institution formed when we worked on the squirrels for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together. Every Friday afternoon was "Rock Friday" where proper rock music was played all afternoon culminating in Van Halen's Jump at 6.30 when we all went to the pub. That was almost the only rule (along with "no ballads") and it has spread to the company I now work for and to others.

My buddy Cosmo, who now lives in San Francisco took "Rock Friday" to Pixar where he now works. It's comforting to know that the "Rock Friday" crew is spreading the love worldwide. Cosmo was able to see the mighty reformed Van Halen last month in San Francisco and, being the kind soul that he is, bought a few of us merchandise treats, mine being a delectable Van Halen logo'd sweat band. I debated where I might keep it for quite some time but then decided that it should have pride of place on my guitar strap. I think it almost certainly adds to the playability of the instrument - a little more of the spirit of Eddie is with me now.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year


Primrose Hill, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope your hangovers have subsided and that 2008 brings you all that you need.

Tinseltroos and I, for the second year running, had a very quiet New Year's Eve. Last year it was T who was feeling rotten, this year it was my turn. My stomach bug, I think contracted at the moderately fashionable J Sheekey fish restaurant on Christmas Eve has not yet abated. I can eat pretty much what I want now, but it has to be in very limited amounts. I think I may be the only person to lose weight over the Christmas and New Year break and I can assure that was not how I had envisioned it. We managed to have a lovely evening nevertheless. We saw The Golden Compass in the afternoon which I didn't care for much as a film though I get the impression from people that have read the books that I wouldn't care for them either. I did enjoy the bears which were done by buddies at a company I used to work for and some of the design work on the buildings was pleasing. The overall look was too "clean" for my taste but that's the director's choice not the VFX artists'. My Canadian chum J worked on the airship and she put a lot of work into dirtying it up, adding a little rust and streaks of water and grime before being told to take it all off and make the thing pristine. Wouldn't have been my choice but if that's what the director wants, that's what he or he gets.

Tinseltroos taught me how to make incense in the evening. She has several old (as in medieval) recipe books for incense to cure ailments based on the idea of the humours. I don't care for people messing with my bile, black or otherwise, but it was fun to sort out which were the "correct" ingredients to use, grind them together in a pestle and mortar, add a few drops of oil and then sprinkle the whole lot over a red hot charcoal disk and inhale. I don't think I have much truck with the methodologies and reasonings behind medieval medical instruction but that said the resultant incense smelled good and I reckon we'll be creating another batch soon. It's rather like being able to make your own perfume but considerably cheaper, and with a greater risk of razing your flat to the ground.

Having eaten dinner, Tinseltroos poured herself a glass of her new tipple, consisting of rum, milk, nutmeg and sugar to which she has become addicted and I a small glass of brandy (purely as a digestif for my poor stomach you understand) and we sat down to watch Akira. I love that film, it never fails to knock my socks off. It is rare that a film affects you deeply viscerally, emotionally and intellectually but this one really does. The film ended at around 11.45 giving us enough time to see the illumination of the city fireworks bounce off the buildings opposite and then curl up and sleep.

Today, as it's our last day before heading back to work, we took at a relaxed pace. We got up at around ten o'clock and having showered and dressed headed into Soho for brunch at Balans. Having developed a real taste for blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and streaky bacon in New York it was a joy to discover a restaurant so close to home and work that does them well. Three pancakes, three rashers, a gallon of syrup, some orange juice and a coffee really set me up for the day. They were also playing The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan on the hi-fi - perfect for me, hell for Tinseltroos, who hates jazz. Well, as Osgood Fielding III observes at the end of Some Like It Hot, "Nobody's perfect".

Following brunch we took a 2 hour walk up through Regent's Park, to dog-spot and then up past London Zoo and finally to the top of Primrose Hill where the photograph at the top of this post was taken. It's good to see the whole centre of town laid out in front of you. Having got home we're having a quiet afternoon reading and relaxing before getting ourselves psyched for the storm that will be Hellboy 2 tomorrow. I got incredibly stressed toward the end of last year and, not that I'm making it a resolution but, I'm really going to do my very best not to allow work to crush my spirit again. Partially it wasn't my fault, I got dealt some tough hands, tough work on rough projects without much respite. Having said that, a week or so away from it all does give me some perspective again and I shall try to maintain as much of that as I can whilst I try to finish up my work on Hellboy 2 and then move on to a new project. There is already a project which may come into our studio that I am scheduled to work on should we land it. I have been wanting to work on a show that chimes with my aesthetic sensibilities for a while and this could well be it. I can't say what it is but so far the meetings have gone well and I really like the director, production designer and director of photography. This is a good sign, when the team feels right, the result is usually good. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

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