Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Serbian Film

Do not watch this video.

Seriously. It's fucked up, as you can guess from the trailer.

Retired porn actor Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) has fallen on hard times. He's contacted by a former colleague and, with the promise of his family being set up for life, is coerced into to taking part in an “arts film” that turns out to be darker than he could ever imagine.

Hmm. How do I describe this film... Well, it's an endurance test for the viewer. The acting and cinematography are superb, but they're underpinned by a fairly routine story with extremely graphic themes of sex and violence. The shocks gradually become more and more perverse (I won't describe them here) as the film progresses. The final scene was also bleakly vulgar, but there are many “why”s that you'll be asking by that time (provided you get that far).

Todorovic is superb, perfectly cast as an awful parent and an easily corruptible anti-hero (in the most literal sense). The director of the arts project, Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovi) I felt was a clichéd psychopath character- over-the-top, too arty-farty, no charisma, the type who would never get away with any powerfully-evil acts before being spotted.

The director has hinted that there is a metaphor in the title and the story- perhaps something to do with the way the Serbian government treats its own people- although he's left it up to the audience to decide. I think most people will side with me when I suggest that if there was any meaning it was drowned out in a torrent of bloodshed and perversity.

This film made me feel physically ill and had to stop it halfway through, which has never happened before, and had to psych myself up before tackling the latter part (and it was a good job I did).

If you're curious about it and you think you have the stomach, you might find it worthwhile to watch, but if you strip away the gore it's really a simple tale of abuse and revenge. Think Hostel times a thousand.

The theme tune, though, by Serbian rapper and producer Sky Wikluh, is brilliant.

If you want to watch a really good controversial foreign film, stick with Irreversible.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Last of the Chinese

My food, alas, was not served in this.

Although this might sound like an epic period drama starring Daniel Day Lewis and Jet Li, this is actually a quick post about getting back into pre-2010 moving-out-of-the-parents'-place shape.

I used to LOVE Chinese food from the dubiously-titled but deliciously-tasting “Man Ho” Chinese takeaway. I've had it as an occasional treat every couple of weeks for the last 5 or so years. Over the last few weeks, though, I've been eating better than usual by following plenty of healthy recipes and trying to eat more fruit and nuts instead of chocolate. And something is changing.

I'm developing a bit of a taste for healthy food, and I'm enjoying the process of cooking and the satisfaction of making something that's good for me. Not only that, the taste of takeaway food doesn't have the appeal it used to. Neither does the thought of eating it. Having just finished the last of a recent sweet-and-sour pork and egg fried rice, I'm actually looking forward to something more wholesome and unprocessed.

So I'll continue eating healthily, by avoiding any takeaway food- If I'm rolling out of a bar and I spot a fast-food pizza place, I'll duck it and stick with toast or something equally safe when I get in- and I'll continue working out throughout the week. In a month from now I'll see what PBs I've beaten at the gym and see how I feel.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin

Preparation is key to many things in life, as is cooking. I've learned to make sure you have the necessary utensils, not just the ingredients. So before I did anything, I put a tablespoon on my shopping list before adding the ingredients. A teaspoon, however, is a third the size of a tablespoon, or so I found after I'd finished cooking. So as long as I can remember that...

When I shopped, though, I couldn't find a tablespoon in the whole of Tesco. Poor performance.

To begin, I poured the flour into the hot milk without mixing it with water first. I had to start that again. Then I turned the grill on and forgot to light it, resulting in me remembering late and nearly losing my eyebrows.

The recipe includes peas for the ingredients of the gratin itself, which is a bit like a pie. But at the last minute the instructions suggest you also throw in peas as a side dish. Oh.

I then forgot to preheat the plates so the food cooled quite quickly once served.

The topping, a mixture of cheese and breadcrumbs, ended up a little thin due to the size of the dish.

I got the timing for all of this wrong- I invited my parents around to share it with me but when they arrived I was still 20 minutes off. It was a good job I did invite them around as this isn't a dish that's safe to reheat, and it fed the three of us. We all liked it, though, and the fish- Vietnamese river cobbler and smoked haddock- was very flavoursome, one more so than the other. The recipe suggested cod, but on my shopping list I recorded only their generalisation of “white fish fillet”.

Timing etc. aside, the meal was a tasty success.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Harissa Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad

Next up: this North African rice and chicken dish from the Hairy Dieters cookbook.

I made a mistake from the outset by only putting 1 lemon in the shopping list- I needed one to season, another to serve. I got by with a spare lime.

I could have sworn I bought a tablespoon after a recent recipe. If I did, I can't find it. A replacement is on my shopping list. Regardless, the recipe asked for a tbspn of harissa paste. Tesco sell this in a pot not much bigger than container of lip balm. There's no way a tablespoon would have fit- the teaspoon I used only just made it through.

It took nearly 2 hours to cook and prepare- whether this is due to my memory difficulties slowing down the process or whether this is just one of those lengthy recipes is something you'd have to tell me after having a go yourself.

Verdict: Chicken tasted great. Salad predictably dull.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Cajun Chicken

A simple and tasty Hairy Dieters recipe, this Mississippi-inspired dish was quick to cook and lasted a few days.

A few minor problems: measuring out spices with a teaspoon got a little messy, and a teaspoon of oil to coat a tray full of wedges seemed stingy. I could do with buying a larger measuring bowl, although saying that I could do with a larger kitchen altogether. But hey, I'm not Roman Obramovich.

Timing the cooking of different components of the meal is still a challenge after all these years, and I found the chicken a little slow to cook. The wedges could have lasted longer in the oven, but they were still more than edible. Forgot the limes the first time around and left them on my kitchen work surface- I reheated a breast and a few wedges for the next day's meal. A squeeze of half of a lime brought the dish to further life.

End result- delicious. Easy on the tongue and the brain.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Cranberry and Almond Muesli

The first recipe I've tackled this month is a breakfast from the Hairy Dieters cookbook.

I made the mistake of buying whole almonds instead of flaked, but I went back for the correct type. The mistake now provides me with something to munch on in work that isn't going to put weight onto me.

I mixed up all of the necessary ingredients but found that none of my tupperware boxes were big enough, so I used my blender to physically shake it up by hand (not by turning on the blades).

It tasted nice but a little bland. Blueberries and yoghurt livened it up somewhat. This will be my breakfast for the next few days.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Silly girl

A minor exchange between myself and an American girl regarding Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the death sentence a Boston court handed down to him on Friday. I screenshotted these on different days, hence the profile picture change. The @handle, as you'll notice, is the same.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Scene at Spinningfields

Spinningfields' first Indian Restaurant opened last month. Scene, on the Left Bank of the newly developed corner of Manchester, occupies the unit previously home to Strada Italian restaurant. I dropped in with meetup group Manchester Social Nights

They're a good group with regular attendees so you get to know the people rather than dealing with a steady turnover of members. The venues for meetups are good choices, as was Wednesday night's.

The opulent and well-placed venue sports oak and deep red tones, creating a private ambience, and the arched doorways within the building carry a traditional Indian feel. We were led through the high-ceilinged entrance through to the large dining room and to our own table with attached apex roof, giving us a certain element of privacy.

We were served appetisers of plain and spicy poppadoms, the latter of which contained black flecks of spice and nearly blew my head off. Impressive.

One of our group was a young Indian man with impressive knowledge of his native food, so although the menu was clear enough we had a little extra advice on what might be to our taste.

I started with a tasty and suitably small king prawn appetiser, and moved on to their signature dish, the chicken makhani. Deliciously mild, this is a great choice for those- like me- whose taste buds aren't at vindaloo-level endurance just yet.

The business still has a few growing pains- when I went on Wednesday they were still waiting for their supplier to send till roll, so the bill was hand-written. There were a few errors on it which we straightened out, but presumably when the tills are properly up and running these mistakes won't occur to affect customers.

The group leader also somehow managed to get us 25% off the bill, a perk to joining the meetup group. Get involved!

Check out the Manchester Evening News' writeup for more info. Their photography picks out the intricate metalwork and woodwork of the décor.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cooking on Gas

I've written a lot about working out and about cooking recipes. The former I do quite a lot, the latter not enough. It's well-known that you don't get the results you want at the gym and in your physique unless you eat the right food to begin with. But what is the right food?

I've been following recipes from the Hairy Dieters Cookbook for a few years now. The meals are packed with meat and vegetables- protein and vitamins. These recipes are perfect for if you're trying to lose weight (which I now am) and also if you're building muscle (which I always have been).

I've been cooking them few and far between, though. And I've been relying on chicken stir-fry, chicken fajitas and omelettes for too long. It's time to vary things up and include a bit more veg. Hence, for a month I'll hammer the Hairy Dieters book, trying out the breakfasts stews and pies. I'll also try the recipes that came with my soup-maker, and I'll write them all up here. Throughout this I'll get to the gym as much as possible and see what PBs I can beat. Let's see if I can get my weight under 70Kg again.

Cooking a meal, from writing a shopping list of ingredients through to sitting down and eating it, is a process that contains its fair share of steps. For most people those steps are quite straightforward, but for those of us with disabilities that may take a little more effort than people realise. Writing a shopping list may be a necessity (it is for me) but through trial and error you learn to not just write down the ingredients you need but also to check you have the right equipment- for example a meat recipe might require string, or a soup recipe might require a ladle. You learn through time, whether learning disabled or not, to watch out for minor problems along the way. But these problems can be overcome through practice- hence this project.

In a month, I hope to be a lot sharper and a more competent chef.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Meetup- Don't Stay In

Further hammering of the Meetup social media site has allowed me to make more friends, eat good food, visit cool bars and restaurants and spend more time in the fantastic city of Manchester. A good number of groups have sprung up over the last few months, so recently I've checked out a few of them.

On Bank Holiday Monday I went to meet the people from Manchester Social Nights, a group for over-30s. The event is listed here. Dockyard is a bar at the river's edge on the opposite side of Spinningfields to Deansgate. Great relaxed atmosphere, modern yet traditional and pubby. The burger I had went down a treat, although the table I sat at was strangely uneven. We then stopped off at the recently-refurbished and still-fantastic Alchemist

Manchester Social Nights is a good group. The organiser also introduced me to a few other meet-up groups that I'll mention after I've visited them.

Next up in my calendar: Manchester Social Scene. I went to meet them on Friday for drinks in the Northern Quarter. It rained a lot on Friday night (hey, it's Manchester) but a good number of us made the effort. We checked out Bluu

and Bar 21, formally TV 21.

Interesting night. Got told I looked like Jack Shepard from Lost.

Fuck it, I agree.

Also, a girl branded me “a bit of a knob” because I turned her down. She wasn't one of the group. Honestly not my kind of place and I think I've been there enough times now, but I'd meet with the group again.

And then Saturday: I woke up strangely early (insomnia can hit at both ends of the candle) and I fell back asleep in the afternoon. I needed to get up in time for the evening as I was running a Lads' Night through the 20s and Early 30's group. But I didn't hear my alarm and I missed the beginning of the meetup, along with phone calls and texts from the rest of the group. Thankfully the group organiser had turned up and was commandeering. They'd already met in Bluu, gone on to Trof and Apotheca and were a few drinks in by the time I found them in The Bay Horse, a small but smart pub in the heart of the Northern Quarter.

We moved on from there and all the ideas I had had been kind of exhausted, so we looked for places we'd not tried and landed on Hula, a Tikki bar in Stevenson Square. We queued for 15 minutes and paid the £4 door charge, but tikki bars are what they are- rammed Jamaican-themed shacks with straw on the floor, badly-mixed contemporary and old-school R'n'B, photos plastered to the ceiling and bamboo fixtures. Fine women, though.

Hopefully we'll get another, more popular lads' night scheduled for the likes of Spinningfields or The Milton Club, and I'll sleep properly beforehand and guide the night a little better.

Forthcoming nights out planned with Meetup: A Thai restaurant, a pub night with media creatives, a body-art-themed Asian restaurant and an exclusive party night. These events are in Manchester but the Meetup site is worldwide, and as the site becomes more popular more and more people will be setting up events near you, so get involved.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Ferro's stag do

Went to Albufeira Portugal. Stayed at Paraiso De Albufeira

We got a ridiculously good deal on this. Take a look at the pictures on their site and you can imagine what thirty blokes from Oldham looked like, already drunk from skulling Captain Morgan on the coach, rolling into a joint like this. Nice place with an opulent reception area, although once you're in your room finding reception again can be hard. The lifts all seem to drop you off at the back of the building where the golf course is. (Golf is a big thing in Albufeira, or so it seems from the contents of the baggage carousel at Faro Airport.) The hotel's minimal signposting was a problem.

We decided to spend a day in Speedos, just for a laugh. I'd hung on to the ones I bought for 1 Euro in Magaluf in 2010, so I was pleased to bring them out of retirement. Fetching, yeah?!

(Not our stag)

Here's Kati.  


She's a native but her boyfriend is a scouser. She hated her job and her manager, and was in the process of ripping off the bar. I asked her for a Southern Comfort and Coke and she filled the collins glass half-full of SoCo. She charged me about 5 Euros.

Not long after that somebody challenged me to do handstand press-ups, which I can actually do sober. Suffice to say, I could not drunk and I had a cut on the top of my head for the rest of the holiday.

Every bar in Albufeira sells Cutty Sark blended scotch. The only other place I've seen this on sale is in the gift shop at the actual Cutty Sark exhibition in Greenwich. I drank my fair share over the course of the weekend.

We decided to do an eighties theme for one of the night-time sessions. I went as RoboCop.

We also had a Lion-o from Thundercats (great face-paint effort), a black guy who went as a golly, Another black guy who had the perfect frame to play Mr. T, two tennis players including a John McEnroe, a Jamaican bob-sleigher from Cool Runnings (which is a film that came out in 1993, but whatever), a tracksuited scouser with a curly wig a'la Harry Enfield and Chums (a TV series that also began in the 90s, but again whatever), an MC Hammer, an Ultimate Warrior, a Jimmy Saville, an unspecified pilot from Top Gun and a Flash Gordon, among others. The bride-to-be's dad had found an impressive Freddy Mercury outfit, and ironically one of the bars we landed in was dedicated to Queen. Only hits from the 80s group played via concert DVDs over the screens and sound systems, and countless photos and posters lined the walls of the small bar. A good laugh but there's only so much Queen I can take.

A great weekend. The pictures tell more of a story than I could. If you're looking for a cheap destination for a stag do / mates' holiday, Albufiera is worth a look.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Join me on this lads' night

Social group 20s and Early 30s in Manchester is a great opportunity to meet new people in the city. It's an absurdly popular Meetup group with over 1500 members listed. The last meeting in March was brilliant. Good people, our own cordoned-off bar and and a comfortable environment made this a worthwhile early-doors night out.

The second of two girls' nights will go ahead on Friday 8th, so if you fit that demographic why not get involved?

And to balance things out a little, the group's first Lads' Night will take place Saturday 9th May. I'll be on it. If you're male, in your 20s or 30s and you want to meet new people and go to some decent Northern Quarter bars, now's your chance. We'll probably be checking out the likes of Bluu, Cane and Grain, Apotheca, Cord, The Fitzgerald and El Capo. But who knows. The bars are smart and so is their dress codes, so please make an effort. Sign up to the site if you haven't already, and RSVP.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

NaPoWriMo ends

National Poetry Writing Month is done and dusted for another month. I've been busy, so didn't get as much done as I'd hoped.

I've uploaded a couple of edgy poems I wrote years ago, I've followed a couple of the site's prompts, I took a musical sketch scene to a writer's group for feedback and I've worked on a rap write-up of the Eminem vehicle, 8 Mile. Stay tuned for these- they'll be up when they're finished.

I think one way of making a blog stand out could be to put all information into rhyme in order to keep it different from the rest of the blogosphere. You'd also get pretty good at rhyming if you kept at it. Rhyming couplets also encourages the use of interesting imagery, and could put new angles on subjects that many bloggers are covering. There are no rap verses about the Royal Baby online, for example. None in English, anyway.

I have more writing in the pipeline, so I may just do that...