What Are The 39 Steps?

Based on the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock (which in turn was adapted from a novel by John Buchan) The 39 Steps, playing at the Criterion Theatre, is just simply brilliant, both conceptually and in its execution.

The entire cast comprises of only 4 people playing scores of roles. It is genuinely baffling to see them move with such lightning speed and never once miss a beat. Using fast costume changes and excellent comic timing the players keep the stage in constant movement, giving the play a quick pace that is enjoyable and at the same time creates a sense of action and drama. The script is genuinely witty and it doesn’t have to stretch very far to get a laugh. The combination of comic timing and straight-faced humor had me in fits for most of the 100 minutes of run time. But even though the plot revolves around murder, espionage and mystery, that doesn’t prevent the players from breaking the fourth wall once in a while and including the audience on the joke – a technique that if used minimally and subtlety can be good for quite a few roars.

The most remarkable thing about the play (apart from the 4 player cast) is the amount they manage to do with as little as they use. There are no set changes to speak of. Each new scene is set with the use of props, which there aren’t that many of. Brilliantly, the actors themselves do the work of generating most of the “special effects” – no wind machines, just sound effects and actors flapping their jackets; no elaborate props, just four chairs and a steering wheel to simulate a car – at times it almost feels like the plays we used to put up in college, with little or no budget. The difference of course is they have an amazing way of playing along with the joke, which makes it all the more easier to appreciate the scene and laugh along.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Hitchcock references, or shall I say homages. Some are quite evident, for example when someone looks straight at you and says “Vertigo!” but others are possibly a little more subtle. Keep and eye and an ear out for them when you go see the show.

And you simply must go see it. To quote the official site “Book Now and avoid incredible disappointment” The 39 Steps

An amusing story to close with – The friend who I went to the show with got herself some ice-cream in the interval, as she always does. The only flavor they had was “Hazelnut and Caramel”, which didn’t sound too appealing to her, but she was coaxed into trying it. After trying it myself I turned to her and said, “that just tastes like Butterscotch”, to which she responded, “Oh my god you’re right. It does… Maybe they don’t have Butterscotch in England, maybe Hazelnut and Caramel IS Butterscotch”. I was so amused I just had to share this brilliant observation!



Filling In The Map!

When looking to expand your blogging profile WordPress definitely does provide a lot of help along the way. They offer simple tutorials to help new bloggers reach out and get their message across with suggestions and tips. Once you get past the set up stage and learn the quick ins and outs though, its really up to you to find a voice for yourself and get your name and posts out there. I’m not going to start giving you suggestions of my own – I don’t think I’m really in a position. I’ve only been blogging seriously since late last year, thanks to the impetus I got from Kim Duller and the LUIP team. Before that I had a blog on Posterous.com, which I used mainly just for pieces of self-composed prose or poetry. Since starting the program however I’ve started making a greater effort to write regularly and I’m even using the services of Tumblr to try and develop some sort of following for my amateur photography. The truth is I don’t know if I’m doing well or not. I’m not sure how to judge the progress I’ve made.

One thing that helps however is the Site Stats feature offered by the service hosting this blog. Its really quite interesting to scroll through the summaries they provide and see what people visiting your blog look for, what brings them there, and then try to use that information to better market yourself. I truly recommend that if you’re running your own blog on WordPress you check these stats out. They give you a good idea of your personal progress over time.

My personal favorite is the Map stat which shows you where visitors checking out your blog are logging in from. So far I’ve gotten visitors from places I would have never imagined. But then I suppose that’s one of the great things about the internet – people from all around the world can come together and share information like never before. 15 years ago I couldn’t have imagined sharing my words with people from Croatia or Jamaica! Now I’m just waiting for the day I manage to fill in the entire map – So if there is anyone out there from South America or one of the many countries in Africa or South East Asia, I welcome your patronage and thanks for helping me color in my map : D

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Down the Rabbit Hole: Touring the Old Underground

This being the year that witnessed the 150th Anniversary of the London Underground it was fitting that through the efforts and graces of the London University International Partnership program, and specifically the wonderful Kim Duller, some of my fellow Study Ambassadors and I got some special insight into the history of the tube. Some of you may have actually seen the very interesting campaign that Transport for London executed earlier this year, which I think is still running at some of the stations – Its basically citizens of London, through the ages, nodding at you as you traverse the escalators together. It’s really quite clever. Our tour, which was conducted by David Leboff, the Principal Planner for TfL London Underground & Rail, began with a short lecture where he took us through the history of the Underground through many interesting photographs and sketches which showed the development of the Railway lines that we now know as the Tube and its architectural and technological evolution. I’m afraid I don’t have the slides to share with you myself but I found a lot of very interesting articles online which highlight some of these developments (I’ve provided a couple of links at the bottom).

I think, however, that the best way to share my experience with you would be to share some of the interesting facts and trivia that we picked up during the tour. So here we go:

  1. The Underground was originally several individual lines, such as the Metropolitan District Railway, the Central London Railway, the Euston and Hampstead Railway and the Greater Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. Some of these lines were brought together under one London Underground system between 1900-1910. Others took another 10-20 years or so to be joined.
  2. The famous London Underground logo – also known as ‘the Bullseye’ wasn’t always around – it was actually adopted around 1908-1910.
  3. The London Underground has its own font. That’s right! Its called the Johnson Type Face and was developed in 1916 specifically for the Underground. A modified version is still used as the official font for all publicity material of the TfL.
  4. 55 Broadway – the Offices of the London Underground – was the largest office block in the London when it opened in 1930. The facade of the building incorporated many sculptures from famous artists of the time, such as Jacon Epstein, Eric Gill and Henry Moore, all of which are still visible today.
  5. The London Tube map is based on a design by H.C. Beck and has been around in its current style only since 1933. Before ‘the Beck Map’ was developed the London Underground map was more geographical and congested. Beck decided to give it a cleaner look by making it more angled and uniformly spread out.
  6. Many of the London Underground stations were used as bomb shelters during World War I, and some of the then unfinished tunnels of the central line actually housed factories where mostly women workers would manufacture aircraft parts.
  7. London was the first major city in the world to have its airport connected to the rest of the city by its main underground system.
  8. The term ‘the tube’ comes from the Central London Railway being coined the ‘the twopenny tube’ (pronounce tup-penny) because it had a flat rate of Two Pence for travel from one stop to any other.

After the history lesson at London Underground HQ we also took a tour of a somewhat spooky and quite fascinating disused station which used to service Londoners taking the old Greater Northern Piccadilly and Brompton line. Some parts of it were completely pitch black, and we only had two torches – thank god for Apps on your phone huh?! Though I must admit, I did by best to make the dark and narrow corridors a bit more creepy and alarming – its like I said to Kim “If you put a bunch of boys in a dark underground passage, there is no way we are not going to make horror movie references”. And trust me, there was plenty of material. The state that some of those rooms and corridors were in it was almost impossible to imagine that there were fully functioning offices, kitchens, dining rooms and living quarters down there during the blitz. In fact at one point we were in the exact spot where Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet met during World War II, before the new Cabinet War Room was built.

Walking out I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by thoughts of what the people who spent months in those corridors must have gone through. I was only down there for maybe 15-20 minutes and I wasn’t terribly at ease, even though I’m not claustrophobic. Still, I really must thank David Leboff for the experience – he was witty, illuminating and fun – and I’m not just saying that because I know he’s going to be judging this blog later ; )

For some cool pictures of old timey tube stops and users, as well as some interesting publicity material through the ages, check out The Telegraph’s article “The London Underground: A History in Pictures

To see London Underground Maps through the ages check out this article on The Daily Mail’s website – Growing Underground!

I was almost in a good mood, then I went online

I am probably the last person to want to comment on the state of the nation, whatever that nation may be; or talk about the degeneration of society; or get into fights with people over “one man’s terrorist…” and all that bull. I’m not saying I don’t get into those skirmishes once in a while. I’m just saying, I’m not a fan.

And its not that I don’t know whats going. Of course I have opinions. And even though I may not be the most well-informed when it comes to world politics, I know the gist. I log on to the news apps on my phone – Time, The New Yorker, TOI, HT – and I fill myself in on what’s going on. I watch the highlight reel if you will. And more importantly, I listen to what people say and I try to open my mind to new ideas and perspectives.

And trust me I care. It truly causes me physical pain to read some of the things that people say online. And I want so much to comment or try and add to their dialogue, but its just scary and disheartening how some people refuse to open their minds to any opinion other than their own. Of course I care, but sometimes you get to the point where you would rather just log off and let people just be, as long as they don’t get in your face about it. It just feels sometimes likes there is no way to make a difference in the face of the overwhelming tides of ignorance and hate.

The truth is that the internet has forced us to try and actually come to grips with the idea of “The Freedom of Speech” on a level that I do not think humanity could have ever imagined when we first lauded such ideals. With the exception of a few dictatorial and fascist states everyone in the world believes in the right to free speech or expression or the voice of the people – whatever you want to call it. But how far should we go to protect that right? It seems that every time I go online I come across people who say things that I would find truly reprehensible, if I wasn’t genuinely dumbfounded that someone could be that ignorant or biased or hateful. At what point do we need to step in and draw the line between “the freedom of speech” and “the freedom of hate speech”. Traditionally that line is where it hurts someone. But how can you say that someone spewing hate speech online where anyone can access it isn’t hurting people. Sure maybe he doesn’t pick up a knife or a gun himself, but speech like this antagonizes people who are already frustrated and angry and want someone to blame. You may not be putting the gun in their hand, but you are telling them where to aim.

I actually came across a site today that was dedicated to highlighting the “problem” of “Islamic terrorists”. The site has a ticker widget which shows the supposed number of terrorist attacks that have carried out by Islamic Terrorists since 9/11, a scrolling list of various media articles about Muslims getting arrested, a tab which takes you to various “Mohammed Cartoons” and various propaganda advocating the impeachment of “Obozo” – I ‘m presuming you can figure that one out – Clever as it is (sarcastic eye roll). And why did I go onto a site like this? Because I was looking to pick a fight? Because I wanted to reach out as a “peaceful loving Muslim figure”? No! I went there because this particular blog was on WordPress.com’s list of the “Top Blog Posts” of the day – which it suggested I check out. So basically anyone with a wordpress blog may have landed up here today, now matter how old they are. Wonderful! The blog by the way is called “Creeping Sharia” and I suppose in an alternate universe this person would actually be the exact person that he himself villainizes. I mean is he really that far off from the so called hate mongering terrorist leaders who seduce disillusioned young muslim kids into “fighting for a greater cause” so they can be used as pawns in geo-political battles? I was tempted to share some of the comments that people shared on this blog, to really give you an idea of the level of inhumanity that people like this can bring out in people, but I just cannot make myself do it. I do not want to be responsible for someone who should not be exposed to such material seeing hateful things like that on my blog. If you’re actually interested go see for yourself.

So where does that leave us? Laissez-faire? Freedom for everyone and we’ll just have to deal with the abusers? Enlightened despotism like the old Prussian Czars?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t think anyone does. Its not an easy question.

But its sad that great people have lived lives dedicated to fighting for the right for people to stand up to bullies and despots who have kept them down. Great men like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru; like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.; like Winston Churchill and Voltaire.

I’m not sure why I really wrote this. Its no great treatise on the human condition. Its not a call to arms for people to fight back against hate. I think its just me trying to say, maybe lets not be so angry. Maybe lets try and be a little nicer online. Just because we can say whatever we want, doesn’t mean that we should.

John Milton, an english poet said “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” Lets just try and remember to more than just exercise the “argue freely” part.

Web Comic Review – Commissioned Comic

Ever find yourself thinking in D&D? Well, Commissioned Comic is pretty good at illustrating just what that might look like. I found myself genuinely intrigued watching the lines between real life and RPGs blend in this web series. I think the reason contemporary geeks might find it particularly appealing is that it envisages the hypothetical hilarity of pitting the contemporary geek – you know what I mean – still slightly socially inept, but not always the clichéd image – massively thick glasses, pale as all hell from a lack of sun, pimpled like we’ve never heard of Clearasil – against real life social “quests” like talking to that hot girl at the bar or confronting a nasty neighbourhood dog. I mean I can’t be the only one who has had day dreams of casting a “knock” spell on a locked door when you can’t find your keys or wished I had a particularly high CHARISMA or DIPLOMACY skill – you know, to get out of sticky situations, or into them if that’s your aim.  If you hadn’t guessed yet by the way, I am particularly partial to the Wizard/Mage classes. I haven’t played the classic D&D myself but have always been a huge fan of the many RPGs that D&D gameplay has inspired such the Baldur’s Gate series or Neverwinter Nights.

Back to the focus of our review though – Commissioned Comic, by artist Obsidian, is a nice concept. There are plenty of web comics that focus on gaming or revolve around the antics of classic characters, but this web comic takes a different perspective – that of an artist who is commissioned by different characters to do their portraits (thus the name) and his party of D&D gamers. As mentioned before though, its novelty lies in the mash-up of the realms of reality and imagination. However, though I love the gameplay dynamics, I didn’t find it particularly hilarious. Interesting yes, but not laugh out loud. I can see myself popping back once in a while, but I don’t see myself following religiously.

Apart from the comic series the site also makes available single sketches by the artist – the Art Barf! series. These could be anything really – dungeons settings, combat scenarios, character portraits, classes/races, monsters. They are stylistically quite different from the comic itself. In fact I would be hard pressed to club them all into the same artistic style – they seem to employ quite a diversity of brush strokes (theoretically speaking – I mean they’re created in Photoshop, not on a real aisle), thematic perspectives and color palettes.

The artwork has evolved since the comic started – going for more realistic detail. I suppose if I had been following for a while I may not have noticed, but since I read through a whole lot of the comic for the purposes of this review, it’s quite apparent, even though it’s not drastically different. This isn’t a feature unique to this particular comic. Many web comics evolve artistically as time progresses, while others choose to maintain an element of continuity. I suppose this is really a choice left to the artist. And yes sometimes more defined artwork can make the comic more appealing and attractive. But I would just mention as a thought that artists should be careful with this choice. It might not seem like a major change, but in my opinion the feel of a comic does depend to some extent on its look and artwork. For example – Cyanide & Happiness has a very distinct art style, and it suits their formula.

Checking out the comic and the Art Barf! art work is of course free, but they offer a host of extras for those who want to join the ranks of their premium members, including invites to Convention after parties, exclusive sketches and desktop backgrounds and high-resolution comics. Check out the comic here – Commissioned Comic

The 10 Best Movie Kisses

Alright so its V-Day, or possibly D-Day for those of you who forgot it was coming up and haven’t gotten that special someone that special something. Though I find myself single this Valentine’s, I am still a hopeless romantic at heart, so I decided to do a Valentine themed post after all. It was also inspired in part by a story I saw in yesterday’s Evening Standard about a survey that revealed that the spagetti-eating scene from Lady and the Tramp was Britain’s favorite screen kiss (awwwwww). So here we go. Here are my Top 10 – the raunchy, the sweet, the make you melt in your seat.

10. Batman and Robin (1997) – I have to admit while I’m not really attracted to Uma Thurman, I really wanted to kiss Poison Ivy ; p

9. Casper (1995) – Poor kid. He dies young so he never gets to grow up and do all the things everyone does. Then he has the chance to come back to life, but gives it up for the sake of his crush. Well at least he got to be a real boy for one day and got this super kiss from a cute Christina Ricci.

8. Spiderman (2002) – The upside down kiss – this has been parodied and copied the heck out of since. But for good reason. It was a nice touch for the film – very spidey! And the added element of the rain and wet clothing – money!

7. Wild Thing (1998) – ’nuff said right guys?

6. My Girl (1991) – The ever cute first childhood kiss. I didn’t have one myself (well not that I can remember) but its one of those movie moments that makes you feel all fuzzy inside. Recommended for watching with that special someone. SPOILER ALERTMacauley bites it in the movie so its pretty sad.

5. Juno (2007) – Well you just gotta love a girl who is bad-ass enough to flip off passers by as he hacks with her socially awkward cutie

4. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Leia planting one on Solo as he is about to be frozen in carbonate. Poor guy, if things weren’t confusing enough for him already. “Wait. What. I thought you liked Luke!”

3. Back to the Future (1985) – Pumped from his recent vanquishing of his arch rival, when George McFly lays one on his future bride, thus saving our hero from a near vanishing, you can’t help but go yay!

2. Lady and the Tramp (1955) – Yes it definitely makes my list too, even if it didn’t make it number 1. Its just such an unbelievably cute moment when the two lovers sharing a plate of spaghetti find themselves sharing their first kiss. And when he rolls over the meatball to her with his nose – heart melting :’ )

1. Jerry Maguire (1996) – Who hasn’t wanted a “You had me at Hello” moment of their own.  The punch-drunk lover who seems to be spiraling comes back to fight for his love, who accepts him as he is, mess and all.

Honorouble Mention – Sarah Michelle Geller and Selma Blair from Cruel Intentions – Though also a riveting screen kiss, I felt like I already had one of these one there.

A little less Siri-ous

I was a little bored so I decided to have some fun with the Siri feature on my iPhone. I have to admit that it has some genuinely witty responses and a lot more cultural references programmed in there than I would have thought.

Kiss Me, Stupid!

According to page 6 of today’s evening standard, a survey of Cineworld Unlimited customers revealed that the spagetti-eating scene from Disney’s classic “Lady and the Tramp” is Britain’s favorite screen kiss. This is rather surprising, while at the same time it isn’t (yes that sentence did actually make sense in my head!). The people surveyed are obviously adults, who probably watched this movie decades ago, but may have re-watched it since in bouts of nostalgia. So it seems as this particular demographic grew older, they started cherishing their old “awwww” moments over the, what seems like, mass produced market of rom-coms (Romantic Comedies). When I think about it, thats actually cute. I myself can remember watching childhood favorites, snuggled up with that special someone – well to be clear it was more me forcing them to watch movies which I held as staples of my childhood in an attempt to educate them to the fact that I WILL NEVER GROW UP! ;-p

The movie itself came out in 1955, which just sounds absurd right? I mean I’m sure so many of us watched it as kids, I know I did. So to think that it was such a popular staple of childhood cinema that someone from my generation watched it growing up, say somewhere between 1995-1999, 40 years after its release, is truly baffling, and at the same time heart-warming. But to tell you the truth, I find it hard to imagine that the same hold today. Children’s movies these days – like Finding Nemo, Kung-Fu Panda, Cars – are far more action-packed and fast paced. Are kids today still watching Lady and the Tramp, Ferngully, Dumbo or 101 Dalmatians? I’m going to guess no. Which is sad, because some of those original Disney flics are classics. That’s not to say that the new ones are great. How does the saying go? “Never forget where you come from”

Hmmmm… I find that I went way-off course as I wrote this entry. The original idea was to do a Top 10 Movie Kisses of my own, but I guess I got lost in the wonderful world of older days, when movies always had happy endings and gave you that fuzzy feeling inside. Well I suppose I’ll hold off on that one till tomorrow – Do it as a “V Day” post. Come back if you’re interested.

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Kung Hei Fat Choi – Happy Chinese New Year

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A Snowy Encounter: The 2 AM Walk Back Home

The most mesmerizing moments can happen when you least expect them. Last night I got caught in fairly heavy snowfall on the walk back home from my friend’s place (at 2 in the morning!) so I decided instead of cursing my luck to enjoy the beauty and have some fun with it. It truly was the most surreal feeling walking through the falling snow – something straight out of a movie! Walking through the empty streets as they snow danced all around me, catching fresh snow flakes on my tongue, making funny faces on people’s cars ; p