Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Would you like a cup of Tea or Coffee?

My dad hates dandelions like Dirty Harry hates the concept of crime.  Every time he finds one in the garden he’ll rip it out of the ground and throw it in the compost bin and every time he does this my mum tells him “come the apocalypse you’ll be glad of a few dandelions, you can eat the leaves and make coffee out of the root.”  This sounded like a challenge to me...

A quick googling told me that not only could you make coffee from dandelion root; their leaves can also be used to make tea.  I quickly realised that the ability to make a good cup of tea would be an essential skill as a member of the human resistance and started my attempt at middle class survivalism by harvesting dandelions.  Leaves were easy to find and collect, but the roots were trickier.  I had hoped to uproot the plants with a strong tug, but the dandelions would snap in half leaving the roots buried.  I had to dig them out, this was a bit tricky at first but once I found a trowel in the shed it became much easier.  Having collected enough ingredients I retired to the kitchen to begin preparation. 

Eaten raw the leaves are like peppery lettuce.  It’s not particularly nice but it’s not horrible.  A dandelion leaf would make part of a perfectly acceptable post apocalyptic BLT.

I made the tea by ripping up the leaves into the small pieces before pestle and mortarising them.  Eventually I was left with a green slop.  I placed the slop on a piece of kitchen roll to absorb any excess moisture as the leaves dried and boiled the kettle.  

One teaspoon of dandelion mush placed in a cup of hot water made a fresh, pleasant if unspectacular green liquid.  It’s a very healthy tasting drink, not the best in the world but much nicer than hot water.  If western civilisation was wiped out by some terrifying cataclysm and it was this or nothing I’d definitely drink it.

I made the coffee by scrubbing all of the earth off the roots before placing them on a baking tray and roasting in the oven at gas mark 4 for about half an hour, until they looked brown and crispy but hadn't quite turned black.  Once the roots had been roasted I ground them with a pestle and mortar into a fine powder and added a tea spoon  to a mug of boiling water.  The resulting brown liquid smelt and tasted coffeeish.  Again this wasn’t the most amazing drink in the world but it was perfectly drinkable. 

I preferred the dandelion coffee to the tea because it had a stronger, more distinct flavour.  However the tea is easier to make and requires fewer dandelions than the coffee (one big dandelion could make a cup of tea whereas I needed 5 or 6 dandelion roots to make a cup of coffee.  Whilst I’m glad I’ve learnt how to make drinks out of a common weed (and definitely think this has improved my chances of been fully accepted into a rag-tag bunch of survivors trying to stay alive in the bleak nuclear winter) I’d definitely say that in terms of hot drinks alone the present beats any future post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Opinions on Books: The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder

For today’s entry I’m taking a break from the video-games of the 2000s to talk about something a little more classical, so sit back in your leather wing-back armchair, pour yourself a brandy, turn on the atmospheric soundtrack and read all about my opinions on the Edwardian ghost buster Thomas Carnacki.

I haven’t always enjoyed the supernatural detective genre.  As a child I thought Scooby Doo was ridiculous, not for the talking dog, that was brilliant.  What I had a problem with was the terribly predictable stories.  I demanded more than a suspect list of one and half an episode of running down corridors from my pre-turkey dinosaur and potato smiles entertainment.  Years past and I learnt a vital lesson, there’s more to life than Scooby Doo. 

As I got older I became enthralled by supernatural mysteries; Buffy, Hellboy, John Constantine, the Winchester brothers.  All relatable, flawed (mostly) humans investigating sinister and often grisly puzzles, but rather than end their adventures with a drawing room confession or an arrest like boring old Hercule Poirot they would fight giant Lovecraftian monsters, much more exciting.  Thomas Carnacki is one of the original Occult detectives, created by William Hope Hodgeson in 1910.  The Ghost Finder appeared in a six short stories for the wonderfully named Idler magazine.  These stories, along with three adventures published after Hodgeson’s death are collected in The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder published by Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural.  The book’s RRP is £3 for 200 pages so it’s very cheap, but is it any good?

I was expecting Carnacki to be a predictable character.  As he was one of the first occult detectives and a widely acknowledged influence on those that followed him I had assumed that he would seem tired.  I worried that time would have changed Carnacki from a character to a cliché, but thanks to Hodgeson this is never a problem.  Probably my favourite thing about Carnacki is his rational approach to the supernatural.  Carnacki is always prepared for a mundane solution to the supposed hauntings he encounters and often sceptical of supernatural phenomena.  However, when he finds indisputable evidence of supernatural threats he has no problem accepting them as real.  

This is a refreshing change to Mulder and Scully type characters, always assuming a mystery must be either totally rational or totally paranormal.  Carnacki lives in a world where ghosts and demons exist alongside human menaces so he is always prepared for either problem.  Following this unusually agnostic approach Carnacki tackles supernatural problems scientifically; reading research papers on the occult, using then modern technology such as his trusty camera and devises new methods of fighting spirits such as his “electric pentacle”.  Carnacki is not some indestructible action hero who fights evil with quips and sarcasm, he’s always scared of the demonic forces that trouble him, but he’s a hero because he fights them anyway, because no one else knows how.

With most occult detectives stories the reader can usually expect the villain to be some sort of supernatural foe or maybe revealed as humans all along in a surprise twist, Hodgeson takes a different approach.  Hodgeston treats Ghosts and humans as equally likely culprits; sometimes the monster is a terrifying supernatural apparition from beyond time and space, sometimes its Scooby doo style crooks trying to steal an inheritance.  This stops the mysteries from becoming predictable and boring, ensuring the reader never knows what to expect.

Hodgeson portrays most of the threats as mysteries even to Carnacki, as if for all his expertise and experience the Ghost Finder only knows a tiny fraction of the truth about his supernatural enemies, creating a terrific sense of unease that is often genuinely spooky.  The author creates great unknowable menaces then locks Carnacki (and the reader) in a dark room with them, protected only by lines of chalk and electricity that might not work at all.  This is undermined slightly as each story is narrated by Carnacki so his survival is never in doubt.

In conclusion The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgeson provides a collection of varied, intriguing and unsettling short stories.  Definitely worth reading/buying for a superior early example of the occult detective genre.  

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Day 3 A game that is underrated

Hogs of War PSone/PC

Hogs of War is a brilliant turn based comedy strategy game about pigs (all voiced by Rik Mayall) from a range of national stereotypes fighting for control of the punderful archipelago of Saustralasia.  It’s as awesome as it sounds, I'm astonished that it's not on more "greatest games ever" lists.

Tragically Hogs of War has never had a sequel, presumable the only reason for this being the game designers couldn’t think what to do.  So to help them out I’ve thought up a bunch of ideas for the developers Atari, all I ask in return is a thanks credit on the game, oh and 50% of all pig related profits. 

Gears of Hogs of War
The problem with the first game was the emphasis on jokes and whimsy over gritty violence.  In this reinvention the player leads a squad of four Pigs who have to overcome their tortured path to murder their way across the post apocalyptic world of Swineingrad.  Rather than the conforming to broadly comedic national stereotypes each of the War Hogs(TM) represents one of the classic war movie squad archetypes such as heroic hog, tinned spam (the only member of the team with a helmet who paradoxically has the shortest health bar) and racially dubious pig.  The game will be psychopathically gory and as such unsuitable for children, it will be advertised at them anyway.  Rik Mayall’s will no longer voice the game, having being replaced by Lance Henriksen, or Sean Pertwee if he’s too expensive.

Animal Farmville
The player is Napoleon, having recently won the battle of the cowshed they must micromanage every aspect of animal farm.  Command other animals to farm and gather resources.  Carefully control the building of the windmill whilst maintaining order amongst the farm’s population.  Unleash savage dogs on your enemies.  Animal Farmville will be in continuity with Hogs of War as explained by a unnecessarily convoluted tie in comic miniseries, which will benefit both franchises.  This exciting farming sim/political allegory will retain Rik Mayall’s voice over.

Hogs of Total War
Replace the boring old-fashioned turn based combat with hip and trendy Real Time combat, man.  Players carefully manage armies of hogs in a risk like game of strategy over a pig shaped map before leading massive hordes of pig soldiers across beautifully realised HD landscapes.  Historical accuracy is vitally important to this game of warring pigs so Hogs of Total war will take place during the golden age of football hooliganism.  

Reinventing the dogfighting game using turn based combat!  Players take it in turn to clumsily navigate their biplanes in attacking runs against their strangely stationary opponents.  All the fun of a traditional flight simulator with half the interactivity. 

From the development team behind We Dare this (CENSORED)

Give me a call Atari any of these could be the best game ever.  

Friday, 8 April 2011

30 Days of Gaming: Day 2

Day 02 - Your favourite character

Apologies for the delay, the internet’s wasn’t being kind to me.  I plan to take revenge by filling it with two lots of waffley nonsense today.  Anyway on with the blog.


So you’re probably wondering who’s that blue guy with no jaw and not enough fingers?  Why’s he so close to the moon?  What grammatically challenged nonsense will Tom be wasting my precious time with today?  Stay with me hypothetical reader, the answer to all of these questions lie beyond.

The blue gentleman with 1997 boy band hair is Raziel, my favourite video game character.  A former vampire who'll spend days worrying about existentialism, destiny and killing dozens of enemies at time, Raziel is the angsty messianic bad-ass from the Legacy of Kain series of games.  Legacy of Kain is a series of five games, Blood Omens 1&2, Soul Reavers 1&2 and Legacy of Kain: Defiance.  Blood Omen 1 was created by Silicon Knights, Crystal Dynamics were behind the Soul Reaver games and Defiance (with a different team within Crystal Dynamics to blame for Blood Omen 2).  The Blood Omen games star the Vampire Kain, the Soul Reaver games feature the whatever the hell he is Raziel and Defiance alternates between the two.  They’re not the greatest games ever, far from it, they often have pretty repetitive game play, overly long cut scenes and conform to a whole bunch of dark fantasy clichés.  But they’re brilliant none-the-less. 

Where The Legacy of Kain series succeeds is in its story.  Told mostly through brilliantly voiced cut scenes (see below) the game is not a great example of interactive storytelling, in fact if I played them for the first time today I’d probably get bored during the third or fourth five minute cut scene, go for a drink and not come back.  But when I first played one of the games (Soul Reaver 2 £5 from W.H. Smith) this was amazing.  I was used to game stories being brief “Help (INSERT NAME OF HERO) stop those generic crooks/monsters from stealing the gold/princess”.  These games weren’t like that, they had a story to tell and points to make.  Crystal Dynamics had assembled a talented team of voice actors as complex and compelling characters manipulating each other through an epic story about, destiny, time travel paradoxes and honour.  The storyline in this series of games was the first to really matter to me, I wasn’t playing for a high score or a trophy, I wanted to help Raziel save the world and take his revenge on all the villains who manipulated him.  I could forgive occasionally flabby gameplay and an awful camera.


When he first appeared Raziel was driven by revenge, he’d been betrayed and left for dead by the seemingly evil Kain and after a mysterious resurrection wanted nothing but vengeance.  As the story progressed Raziel learns about his forgotten past, realise the startling number of people manipulating him and fails to make simple jumps thanks to the ridiculous camera. 

In game Raziel has all the attributes of a great player character.  He’s got a unique look, always visible against a range of backdrops.  Raziel has the ability to become a sort of ghost and he can glide on his tattered wings allowing for a range of puzzles, these aren’t great in Defiance but the ones in Soul Reaver 2 are fun brain teasers.  The heath system constantly encourages the player to go on the offensive and fortunately he’s handy in a fight.  It’s great fun ripping apart hordes of enemies from humans to massive demons using his claws and whatever other weapons Raziel finds, including the eponymous Soul Reaver, a devastating magical weapon closely linked to Raziel’s mysterious destiny. 

Michael Bell provides the voice for Raziel, Bell is a veteran voice actor who got typecast portraying blue characters after working on the Smurfs; he’s got a rich interesting voice, which is fortunate as you hear it a lot.  Raziel loves to spend long periods of time angstily soliloquising to himself about fate like a demonic Hamlet.  Over the course of his three games Raziel becomes a true (all be it flawed and often misguided) hero.  Raziel is supposedly the only character in the Legacy of Kain storyline with free will (despite having his every action controlled by a player) but frequently finds himself tricked into doing exactly what his enemies wanted.  Ultimately Raziel redeems himself for all of his mistakes spectacularly in the frustratingly cliff-hangery conclusion to Defiance.  

Raziel is unlikely to star in his own game again, Defiance (his most recent title), released in 2003? To pretty uninspiring sales and most of the team behind the games have moved on to new projects (or died) but Raziel and Kain have appeared as downloadable characters in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light  so someone in power remembers these guys exist, who knows maybe somewhere down the line there will be an end to the storyline (or a reboot that totally misses the point) if there is then Eidos will be getting some of my money.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

30 Days of Gaming: Day 1

One of my Facebook friends has started posting an image from and then discussing a different game each day.  I've decided to steal this feature and use it myself.  I’ll talk about a range of games over the next 30 days and use them as a springboard to self indulgently discuss my own life and the relationship between the two.

Day 01 Your first video game: Pokémon Blue on the Game Boy Colour

We didn’t have a games console in the house when I was really young. Whilst my friends were playing on the N64 and the console that would become known as the PSone but at the time was simply the playstation I was having an idyllic semi-country childhood of chasing squirrels, climbing trees and going to my mate Andy’s to play Hogs of War for hours.  This never really bothered me, I used to like videogames and always enjoyed having a turn (and inevitably embarrassing myself) on my friends’ consoles but I was never particularly bothered about having one of my own.  This changed with Pokémon.

I was 11, we’d just moved into a big new house in the suburbs and was becoming obsessed.  There had been other playground crazies, pogs, tamagotchi, yo-yo’s but again I could take these or leave them.  Pokémon was different; this was something new that captured my pre-teen imagination like Spider-Man or Star Trek, maybe even rivalling the X-Men.  It started with the cartoon, I don’t think I would have cared as much if it was just a game, but the Pokémon cartoon (shown between the Poke-Rap and Cat Deeley song on SMTVlive) had a story, characters I could care about and empathise with, living in a brightly coloured world filled with amazing creatures and adventure.  I wanted to go there, to explore these huge unthreatening forests find bizarre monsters and force them to take part in what are essentially super powered cockfights.  So when I was writing my Christmas list on the 1st December 1999 (my family didn’t do anything Christmassy until the start of December) I asked for a Game Boy colour and Pokémon Blue.

Pokémon was the only game I ever bought a strategy guide for a clearly bootlegged in no way endorsed by Nintendo magazine with detailed maps and bestiary between a terrible drawing of Pikachu on the front cover and a chart comparing each type’s strengths and weaknesses on back.  I got this weeks before the console and read it obsessively.  I could tell anyone who asked (or made the mistake of coming near me) what type each of the original 151 were and what levels they evolved at.  I read the guide until it dropped in bits and when I went to bed on Christmas Eve I was barely able to control my excitement.  As soon as my parents would let me I opened began opening my presents, I foraged through the mound of brightly coloured boxes and eventually found the game cartridge.  “You can have the Game Boy for your birthday” my dad teased before handing me the console and losing me for months.

After struggling to direct Ash (renamed TOM because I didn’t notice the lowercase text option) out of the house I went straight for my Pokémon, I chose Bulbasaur because he was an awesome plant dinosaur and set off for months of carefully scouring the game world for Pokémon.  I managed to catch all of the Pokémon on my cartridge and (via trading) some of the ones Nintendo had made exclusive to the red version of the game in a blatant cash grab.
Pokémon was great when I was eleven but I don’t think I’d play it again, the sheer amount of monsters to catch (now at about 700 I think?) would take up much more free time than I can ever imagine having again.  Besides after a few months I turned 12 and realised how childish the whole Pokémon franchise was and moved onto the much more sophisticated and grown up hobby/blatant cash grab Warhammer 40000.

I hope you’ve enjoyed me pretending I was going to write about Pokémon and writing about my child hood instead, come back tomorrow, who knows what I’ll be claiming to talk about?  

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

New Blog Smell!

Hello world!  You’re currently reading the first entry of my new blog.  My Name’s Tom and his is the place to find all the information about my Amazing and Astounding (and mostly job hunt related) Adventures  I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be writing about but hopefully it’ll be funny, entertaining and informative, or failing that regular.  I plan to update every weekday and who knows, I may even stick to that.  I’ll be writing about my life thoughts, interests which include:

·         Books

·         Batman

·         Science

·         Comedy

·         Batman

·         Films

·         Current affairs

·         Batman

·         Food

·         Batman

·         And anything else that takes my interest, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want to.