A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I am surrounded by people on the quest for a name.

Forget Jason’s Fleece, or the Holy Grail, for this quest trumps them all.  At the end of the day whether for a child, a pet or an inanimate object, a name can ruin a life if it the wrong one.

Sometimes it becomes understandable as to why Deed Poll is necessary

I had the fortune last week to be introduced to a gentleman who’s parents named Jon.  Nothing wrong with the name Jon, perfectly respectable name… but sadly for this gentleman, his surname was Johnson.  Now either his parents were just very unoriginal, or they were being intentionally cruel.  As sympathetic as I am now to Mr Johnson’s plight, at the time I found his very existence amusing.  I felt the edges of my mouth start to crinkle, the witty comments blossoming on my tongue… But upon shaking Mr Johnson’s hand I looked into his eyes, and could see the well-exercised army of conditioned responses lined up ready to defend him against my tirade of currently unaired comments.  He could sense my amusement as much as I wanted to contain it.  Poor guy.

You hear about these people with funny names, but rarely do you get to meet them.  A perverse form of celebrity.  I am proud that upon meeting Mr Johnson, I respected him – made no comment on his name, and in fact forgot about him almost instantly as I was introduced to a number of his colleagues.

It was not until last night, when my husband was playing on his Xbox that I was reminded of Mr Jonathan Johnson, and the path his life must have taken due of a choice that he had no control over…

You see, my husband got Final Fantasy XIII for his birthday (don’t worry, no spoilers – we’re only 3 hours in).  I have been well-trained in the way of the Japanese RPG… but there is something about this particular game that  really gets my goat – the ridiculously stupid names!

For those of you who are familiar with J-RPG or the FF series you’ll be aware that peculiar names are not uncommon and probably not ones you’d find ranking highly in the baby-names books, but they reveal something subtly about the character:

  • Aeris (FF7) from the latin word for air – a character very much linked to nature.
  • Seifer (FF8) pronounced in the same way as the word ‘cipher’, highlighting his insignificant state of being.
  • Kuja (FF9) is a Hindu name meaning ‘Daughter of Earth’ – a bit odd seeing as Kuja in FF9 is a guy – but also highlights his connection to the planet Terra (meaning ‘earth’).

Ok, so it may be that after spending 3 years doing a degree in English Literature I enjoy using my brain and teasing out these little intellectual tit-bits that have been scattered through the games, but I subsequently find some of the names in FFXIII down right daft.  I mean, come on… Lightning?!  Obviously it’s supposed to reflect her lightning reflexes or some such, but I can’t help but think of a lycra-clad blonde swinging a pugil stick.

FF13's Lightning, Snow and Vanille

Actually, I think I could cope with ‘Lightning’.  If she was the only one with a hideous name.

For a warrior an odd name sort of works; I mean Cloud (FF7) and Squall (FF8) had anglicised names that require very-little brain exercise to work out their meanings and I could cope with that.

But the crux of the problem was highlighted when they introduced the eye-rollingly badly named “Snow”  and when I actually laughed at the cut scene when the little boy admits to be named “Hope”.

I feel like my intelligence is being insulted.

From what I’ve seen of the game (very little I hasten to add, and so I may be prejudging these names some-what) Final Fantasy XIII looks phenomenal.  Rescuing the series from the dreary, and instantly forgettable, depths of FF12, Final Fantasy XIII seems to be back on track with a gripping story-line, engaging battle system and top-notch graphics.

Like my meeting with Mr Johnson, I’m sure playing FFXIII will be more enjoyable once I can shake off the nagging awareness of the character’s unfortunate names…

Shakespeare once posed the interesting question :”What’s in a name?” (Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1)).

And for me, it turns out to be a lot.

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Uh, before we dock, I think we oughta discuss the bonus situation.

Originally posted on 4th January 2009 on Bobbin’s Movie Night)

Breaking News: New Deal: Brown Unveils Jobs Plan – Sky News

With household names Woolies, Adams and Zavvi about to bite the dust it looks like the queues at the Jobcentres are just going to keep getting longer. As the Christmas decorations are packed away for another year, and the drunken shenanigans of New Year’s Eve fade into memory we’re left with a very bleak outlook for the job market.

Happy 2009.

But today Gordon Brown has announced his plan to create new jobs, get people working, and reduce unemployment.

As of yet, however, there remain a few holes in Brown’s grand-plan. Not least of which, the matter of who these lucky 100,000 new-starters are going to be…

It is becoming increasingly clearer that we will do anything these days to get a job. It makes me wonder what Matt Smith had to do to land the role of the 11th Doctor Who (I bet Catherine Zeta-Jones is smarting over missing out there), and he no doubt feels doubly successful – not only does he get to take on a role that could catapult him to super-stardom over night, but he’s also one of the few 26 year olds with an ounce of job-security!

So perhaps we should look to TV and film to find the best recruitment process for Mr Brown’s new jobs… Because lets face it, movie land boasts some of the strangest work-place situations ever to be seen. And few things can beat: “If you want to get paid, you’ll check out this mysterious distress signal… Oh, and by the way, bring the rib-inseminating, acid-blooded, multi-mouthed alien with you…”

Talk about a lack of job satisfaction…

Alien (1979)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 117mins
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

What do you get when you cross a face-sucking multi-limbed parasite with a team of bored, underpaid, intergalactic long haulers? Some may suggest that you have a dystopian Star Trek on your hands, or maybe just a clingy ex. But in the hands of Ridley Scott you get a true cinema classic.

Seven blue-collar space workers are woken from their cryo-sleep when their on-board computer ‘Mother’ picks up a SOS signal from a distant uninhabited planet. Realising that they must investigate or forfeit their company shares, the crew of the industrial spaceship Nostromo disembark on a rescue mission. But when crewman Kane (John Hurt) ends up with a head-hugging alien clamped to his face the crew decide to ignore the quarantine guidelines, and all hell breaks loose on board when a shiny dagger-mouth alien bursts directly, and bloodily, out of his stomach.

Not exactly what the crew expected when they clocked-on that morning.

The alien itself is hidden in shadow for most of the film, leaving your imagination to fill in the grisly blanks, and some very skilful cinematography notches up the tension, delivering plenty of “Are you sure you want to go in there on your own” moments, that even now still have the power to scare the life out of us. Even the red herrings (namely Jonesy the cat) catch us off guard every time. Alien, in fact received an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and the sequences with the alien are memorable and lasting testaments to the production team’s skilful handiwork (even if you can play spot-the-bloodpack in some scenes)!

Sigourney Weaver, as Officer Ripley, is excellent in what is a traditionally a masculine role. She reluctantly shoulders both responsibility and her motion sensor with desperate determination, leading the charge (and the retreat) in the crew’s struggle against this apparently unstoppable creature. Equally she courageously sports the world’s smallest briefs; clearly those cryogenic freezers are warmer than we gave them credit for.

The supporting cast fulfil their role admirably, going beyond being mere alien-comfort-food. From the disillusioned Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), to the creepily clinical Science Office Ash (Ian Holm), and the whining ‘I’m going to wet myself’ crewman Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) each character maintains a clear identity as an individual within the crew. This makes their struggle for survival all the more human as they are made increasingly aware that they are no longer top of the food chain.

However, to be honest as professional spacefarers I am unsure what most of the crew actually do. There are a couple of grunts who seem to be responsible for repairs, but otherwise ‘Mother’ seems to do everything. Whilst the on-board computer does most of the work, the crew appear to spend most of their time puffing on cigarettes, complaining about pay or just sleeping off the journey time. You rarely see them working, apart from when they’re forced to by the threat of no pay…But that’s what makes this film so slick. You don’t need to know everything about everyone. Do The Company know about the aliens? Why aren’t their any bodies? How the hell did that thing get so big? Who cares?! Arguing it out it much more fun.

Even thirty years after it was first released Alien is clearly a class above many of its successors. So some of the effects look a little dated, but there was something in Alien that made it truly iconic. It moved away from the squishy family-friendly space movies of Close Encounters and Star Wars, and made the enemy a relentless, gut-wrenching monster. In Alien you are taken beyond primal and thrown headfirst into a story of pure survival.

Rather like the Jobcentre queue.

Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices

(originally posted on 3rd December 2008 on Bobbin’s Movie Night)

Breaking News: Conjoined Twin Dies After Surgery – BBC News

So much media attention has surrounded the birth of these two children part of me expects a TV crew to record a small troupe of Wise Men trundling through the hospital reception following a glowing orb to the maternity suite and the SCBU.

With so many people willing little Hope and Faith to just keep on living, it makes it even more poignant that Faith will now never know her sister, and as a nation we collectively mourn a baby who we have never met, and now will never see grow.

When a single child can so capture the hearts of a nation, for me it is almost impossible not to think of one of my favourite films of recent years, the deliciously dystopian Children of Men – where a single squalling infant gives hope to a dying world.


Children of Men (2006)
Starring: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Running time: 109 mins
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

The concept sounds rather odd. A sci – fi – come – war – film – come – political – thriller directed by the guy responsible for the third Harry Potter film. Doesn’t sound all that hopeful does it? But actually Children of Men is one of the best film I’ve seen for years. Set in London in the year 2027 it’s the film’s realism that makes it truly harrowing to watch. It could be our future.

An infertility crisis has caused the nations of the world to collapse, and it is only Britain that is managing to soldier on through the chaos – according to the official propaganda at least.

Innocence is long dead. No children have been born for over 18 years, so humanity is left without a future and without very little cause hope. The world has descended into paranoia and depression. A rebel outfit of guerilla refugees (or ‘fugees’) known as The Fish loom threateningly in the background and the Department of Homeland Security have been ordered to arrest all illegal immigrants, cage them and propel them to the fortified compound of Bexhill-on-Sea. Never has the familiar name of a Kentish seaside town sounded so sinister.

This is a film that could have easily become ridiculous, but in the hands of Director and writer Alfonso Cuaron it is superb – not just theatrically (the action is completely credible and the script is tight) but also technically. His attention to detail really makes this film – we are not presented with some sterilised white PVC future, we see London as it really could be in 19 years time. The London buses are still red and shabby, the back-streets are grungy and covered in graffiti, take-away coffee still comes in card cups, but also we have Identity cards, flat-screen holographic televisions, old 2012 Olympics sweaters and euthanasia pills available direct from the government… but in true british style canabis remains illegal.

Cuaron keeps things moving at a breath-taking pace, filling each shot with so much clever imagery that it is difficult to take it all in. He doesn’t bother with any back-story, the lack of explanation is confusing and disorientating, but Cuaron plunges us straight into the action and the bloody reality of the future, employing only the most required of special effects. This is a story of human survival and individual sacrifice. However, the level of violence and disturbing images that appear in this film, although not frequent, are deeply shocking. The camera work would often not look out of place in a war documentary and some sequences later in the film, are incredibly realistic, adding to the serious themes of the film and building on the tension.

The actors really drive the film, and are perfectly cast in what are difficult roles. It is really refreshing to see that the majority of the cast are British – Clive Owen (Sin City, King Arthur) provides a great performance as the reluctant and jaded central figure of Theodore Faron whilst spending the majority of the film running around barefoot. Michael Caine is excellent as a dope-smoking ex-political cartoonist, and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots, Love Actually), really developed his Serenity style hard man look and is very impressive as an assault rifle wielding rebel.

Cuaron has perfectly adapted P.D. James’ original novel into an outstanding thought provoking film. For some reason this film was not received particularly well by a lot of critics, but personally I can’t stop watching the DVD, and I will do my best to convert anyone who doesn’t think this film is simply superb.

It happens every time, they all become blueberries.

(originally posted on 25th November 2008 on Bobbin’s Movie Night)
Breaking News: Brown Ale Scones on Tea Time Menu – BBC News

You mention “scones” and a lot of people think about terribly British summer afternoons supping tea and munching cake with generous dollops of cream and jam. For me just mentioning this particular cake product brings out a cold sweat recalling lengthy debates over pronunciation, but somewhere in Northumberland customers are clamouring for some weird and wacky afternoon teas:

Garlic scone anyone?

But odd as Nibbles café may sound, movie land is where you find the truly bizarre consumables. Who can forget old Sweeney Todd and the charming Mrs Lovett feeding the London populace on… well… each other? And how about Delicatessen, where an admirably economical Parisian butcher makes his delectable dinners from some of his unwitting visitors? And need we even mention the possible accompaniments to a nice Chianti?

But the most creative of the movie world’s culinary crack-pots has to be the somewhat less cannibalistic Mr Willy Wonka.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear
Director: Mel Stuart
Running time: 100 mins
Genre: Children’s Musical

Mel Stuart’s film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s immortal novella Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an off the wall, but honest tribute to what Wonka would deem “pure imagination.” A beef scone might upset the traditional English cream tea, but luncheons where you devour the tea set itself takes nibbling to a whole new level; but chomping on a bright yellow teacup is perfectly ordinary if you are Willy Wonka…

Chocolate Factory keeps you on your toes, which is one reason why it has matured so well through the decades. While a bit of a box-office failure in its day Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has come to be deemed a minor gem of a classic family film era.

Sadly though the magic of this film is let down by its potted attempt at musicality. Yes, the Oompa-Loompa song is the most maddening piece of music ever, and Veruca Salt has the best singing temper-tantrum I’ve seen in a film, but most of the songs are instantly forgettable. On top of this many of the pieces are shoehorned in seemingly at random, riddling the film with strange shifts in pace. “Candy-Man,” for example, is a memorable number, but for some reason devotes a lengthy sequence to the eminently unimportant “Bill the Candy Shop Owner” where as poor old Charlie finding the final golden ticket – the emotional pinnacle of his life-so-far – doesn’t get so much as a bar… What the heck?

In spite of its musical shortcomings the film ingeniously intertwines dark adult themes and child-like whimsy, with a colour pallet drawn straight from “Spot Finds His Big Red Ball On Acid.” The over-bright colours of the Chocolate Room exemplify 60s psychedelia, whereas the pedalo ride from hell (complete with its shots of decapitated chickens) is nothing short of terrifying. And that’s before we even get to the star of the show…

Wilder’s Wonka is the image of the twisted genius, with his piercing blue eyes, mad-professor hair and sinister smile, not to mention that fact that his tour is nothing short of torment to his guests. His casual indifference to their harm is light years away from our contemporary compensation culture of sanitised childhoods and cotton wool… but I can’t imagine the snotty brats getting off scot-free either, and I’ve yet to find a child who hasn’t been captivated by Wonka’s casual cruelty. Wilder’s boundless energy makes him reminiscent of a favourite uncle, and you just cannot help forgetting, or at least forgiving, his ‘little’ eccentricities.

So, just as Colin and Jacqui Nevin, proprietors of Nibbles café, take an unorthodox approach to a traditional recipe Wonka takes a crazy pot shot at the dangers of lax parenting. Delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Chocolate Factory imparts the message that bad parents produce “bad eggs,” just as reliably as a chocolate factory produces chocolate.

However, family-value fascism aside, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a truly magical film for all ages, inviting even the oldest of children into a world where anything is possible with a bit of imagination… and some really crazy props!