John C. Kirk

Apr. 22nd, 2014

01:42 am - WSWC (3/3): The voyage home

Previously in my blog...
In part 1, I travelled to Lapland for the Winter Swimming World Championships.
In part 2, I competed in races and survived exposure to sub-zero water.

Now it was time to go home. I basically did my original journey in reverse, but it took a bit longer in this direction and I looked for different activities at each stop rather than repeating myself.

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All in all, I had a good trip, and I'm very glad I went. Based on this, I certainly want to attend the Polish Ice Swimming Championships in December.

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Apr. 21st, 2014

06:45 pm - WSWC (2/3): The races

Previously in my blog...
In part 1, I travelled to Lapland for the Winter Swimming World Championships. Now it was time for the races to begin!

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To be concluded in part 3...

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01:09 am - WSWC (1/3): Travel to Lapland

Last month I took part in the Winter Swimming World Championships, held in Finnish Lapland. Most of the team flew out there from London; however, as I mentioned in January, I used trains and ferries to get there and back. This took a bit longer, but there were a few interesting things along the way.

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To be continued in part 2...

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Apr. 18th, 2014

09:39 pm - Theatre reviews (off West End)

Catching up on my theatre reviews, I've been moving away from the big West End shows in favour of smaller performances. One benefit is that they're cheaper, so you can see a live performance for roughly the same price as going to the cinema. However, you also need to grab the opportunity when you see it, because these have much shorter runs than the West End; typically only a week or so, whereas Mamma Mia has been going for 15 years, and The Mousetrap is in its 62nd year!

I'm using cut tags for length, but I've tried to keep spoilers to a minimum.

"GOD/HEAD"



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"Ursula Martinez: My Stories, Your Emails"



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"Knightmare Live"



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"Oedipussy"



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"Never Try This At Home"



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Most of these shows have now finished (at least in London), but Never Try This At Home is still running until Sunday 27th April. Tomorrow (Sat 19th April) they have accessible performances: audio described and touch tour in the afternoon, and captioned performance in the evening. The only time I've noticed that before was when I saw Peter Pan performed in Spanish with English subtitles above the stage. I think it's a good idea, though.

I also have to mention #reachforthepie. Basically, various people who are associated with Told By An Idiot or the Soho Theatre have been recording short videos where they get a pie in the face. (These are office staff or backstage crew rather than the cast.) It has also spread to RADA, and this playlist has all the videos so far. Everyone involved is clearly having fun, so there aren't any of the uncomfortable aspects from the play. I'm also impressed that everyone is wearing normal clothing: no plastic macs or goggles.

Anyway, they've challenged other people to make their own videos (with the same theme). If you do that this weekend and send them the link on Twitter/Facebook, they'll give you 2 free tickets to watch the show. That's a very generous offer, and I recommend it to any Londoners on a tight budget who want an evening out.

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Mar. 13th, 2014

02:31 am - Inspiration for improving my art

Every so often, people post links to motivational comics/articles. I've gathered some of my favourites, in the hope that I can apply them to my drawing. As I've mentioned before, I aspire towards creating my own comics, but I seem to spend more time talking about than actually doing it. I have a folder full of notes, varying from rough ideas to full-blown scripts, but I haven't got very far at actually drawing them, mainly because I find that a lot harder to do (well) than writing.

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Edit: (11-Apr-2014) I just came across a very interesting article on a similar topic - How Not To Make A Graphic Novel.

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Mar. 8th, 2014

08:36 pm - Making chainmail

After the August LARP event, I decided to make my own armour. It took a while, but I think it turned out quite well. I took a lot of photos as I went along, to document the process; this is partly for my own future reference, and partly as a way to give something back, since I got a lot of useful guidance from other people on the internet.

Just to warn you, this is a long blog post, even by my standards!

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Feb. 28th, 2014

01:00 am - First issues

A few new comics have launched this month, so I've picked up issue #1. I intend to keep reading them all (i.e. I'll be buying #2), but they varied in quality.

First up, She-Hulk #1. As I've mentioned before, I really enjoyed Dan Slott's run on the title, and Charles Soule seems to be taking a similar approach by emphasising her legal career. Soule recently took over Swamp Thing, and he's been doing a decent job there. One interesting thing about him is that he's a practicing lawyer as well as a comics writer, so a comic about a lawyer seems like a natural fit for him.

Next, New Warriors #1; this is the fifth incarnation of the series. I started reading the first volume in 1995, just after I graduated from university. I thought it was really good, and I have some of the original artwork hanging on my wall, but unfortunately it was cancelled a year later with issue #75. Last year, Marvel published a hardback omnibus of the first 30-odd issues, and hopefully there will be a couple more to cover the rest of the series. Volume 2 came out in 1999, with a new creative team, and lasted 11 issues; I bought them all, but that was mainly out of loyalty and the hope that it would improve. Volume 3 came out in 2005, and only lasted 6 issues; again, I bought them, but I don't think I've re-read them since, and the only notable thing was that it laid some groundwork for Marvel's big "Civil War" event. Volume 4 came out in 2007, but I gave up on it after #1; apparently it lasted until #20. So, with these diminishing returns, how does volume 5 hold up? Surprisingly well. Some of the characters are very familiar, there are a couple who I vaguely recognise, and others who I know nothing about at all. However, they all get a turn in the spotlight, and I'll be happy to hear more about them. The writer (Chris Yost) has been doing a good job on the Scarlet Spider series for the past couple of years; sadly that's now been cancelled, but hopefully some of the plotlines will continue over here.

This next one is a completely new series rather than a relaunch: The Royals: Masters of War #1. This is a tricky one. It's the first issue of a 6 issue series, and I think that the story as a whole will be worth reading. However, if you've read any of the adverts for the series then you already know almost everything that happens in this issue, so you could just skip it and start with #2. That's not necessarily a problem, because the characters need to get to the relevant point in the story; when I watched Spider-Man (2002), I knew that Peter Parker was going to get spider-powers, but I was willing to wait while he figured it out. Unfortunately, this comic also involves expository dialogue, i.e. characters telling each other things that they should both already know, solely for the reader's benefit. So, it seems to get the worst of both worlds.

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This next comic isn't exactly new, but it's new to Comixology: Mr T #1 from Mohawk Media (originally published in 2011). I think this title really appeals to nostalgia; arguably, "Mr T" is just as much of a fictional character as BA Baracus, i.e. the actor might not behave like that all the time when he's out of the public eye. It only costs 69p, so you can't really go too far wrong at that price, but I doubt that I'll carry on with the rest of the series.

Going a bit further back, Sandman Overture #1 came out at the end of October. It's a 6 issue series, so on a normal (monthly) schedule it would be almost finished by now. It was intended to be bi-monthly, but issue #2 has been delayed a couple of times, and it's now due in late March. (Bleeding Cool have sarcastically suggested that we should get a new issue every September.) Anyway, #1 was a good issue, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series: it has the things that I liked about the original series without just being a repeat, and I get the impression that Gaiman actually has a specific story to tell.

However, if you haven't started yet, I recommend waiting for the eventual collection. Aside from pacing issues, I think the layout will work better in a book. I read the digital version on my iPad; there are lots of double page spreads, which mean that they have to be shrunk down to half size in landscape mode. There's also a four page spread: the paper copy had pages that folded out, but the digital copy had a zoomed out version of all four pages (in "letterbox" mode) followed by two double-page spreads in landscape mode. However, House to Astonish reviewed this issue (starting about 35 minutes into episode 113); they reported that the paper copy has several adverts which interrupt the story. So, the hypothetical book should have full size pages without adverts.

Even further back, Nonplayer #1 was published in 2011. The story involves some kind of virtual reality world (apparently a MMORPG like "World of Warcraft"), where some of the non-player characters seem to be developing lives of their own. That's an interesting premise, and the artwork is really good. However, there's no sign of issue #2 yet. I'll keep following it if/when future issues appear, but I'd advise anyone else to wait for the collection.

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Feb. 25th, 2014

03:42 am - The right to refuse service?

In the last few days, I've read a couple of stories about companies refusing to do business with gay people:
Razing Arizona
'Equal' rights?

The Telegraph has a bit more info on the first story:
"The conservative southern state of Arizona has passed a controversial law allowing businesses to refuse to serve gay people if it goes against the owners' religious beliefs."
The governor hasn't (or hadn't) approved that bill yet, so I'm not quite clear on the legal status, but it doesn't bode well. This reminds me of the photos I've seen from the 1950s, showing racial segregation in the USA. If the law goes ahead, George Takei has proposed that people should boycott the entire state. Personally, I've never been to America, and I don't have any particular plans to go, so there's not much I can do differently, but I think that this law is wrong.
Edit: The state governor vetoed the bill.

The second story is a bit closer to home: a gay couple are getting married in Scotland, and they wanted to hire a "candy cart" for the reception. (I assume that this is a trolley filled with pick'n'mix sweets, or something similar.) However, the company owner refused to supply their wedding, because she's opposed to gay marriage.

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Jan. 26th, 2014

12:32 am - Lapland logistics

It's now 8 weeks until the Winter Swimming World Championships, and I've just finalised my travel arrangements. There's a team of us going from my local swimming club, and most people are flying from Stansted to Tampere, then taking the train to Rovaniemi. However, I try to avoid planes nowadays (to reduce my oil dependency) so I'm taking a different route. The Seat61 website was very useful here, so I used that as a starting point, and I'll be using trains and ferries to get there and back.

The main snag is that this takes a lot longer, so between this and LARP I've already booked most of my annual leave for the year. It's also more expensive than flying, so I don't think people are going to abandon air travel en masse while it's quicker and cheaper. The other complication is that I've had to book my travel from lots of different companies, and the tickets have become available at different times, so this has been an ongoing job for several months. (I registered for the swimming races on 2013-06-19 and booked my final train tickets on 2014-01-24.) On the plus side, I think that travelling by train is generally more civilised than going by plane (e.g. I can take a bottle of water with me and I get more legroom), and I should get the opportunity to see a bit of the various cities when I change vehicle.

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Jan. 13th, 2014

12:40 am - Power and responsibility

I recently heard my local MP on the radio, talking about the "Plebgate" controversy. (As a side note, I'm not really keen on the trend where "-gate" means "scandal". At this point, I don't think it's even a direct reference to Watergate, it's just become a synonym. However, in this case the people concerned were at least standing next to a gate when the conversation took place.)

Just to recap, the original incident happened in September 2012. Andrew Mitchell (a Cabinet minister) was leaving Downing Street with his bike, and the police officer on gate duty told him that he'd have to use the pedestrian gate rather than the vehicle gate. According to Toby Rowland (the police officer at the gate), Mitchell then swore at him and called him a pleb. According to Ben Mills (his senior officer on the night), Rowland phoned up 2 minutes later to report that he'd issued Mitchell with a section 5 public order warning. (I got that info from an interview on One News Page; I think it originally came from Sky, but I don't have a direct link.) Later on, Keith Wallis emailed his local MP, saying that he'd witnessed the conversation. However, it turns out that Wallis is a policeman, and he wasn't actually there, so he'd lied about the whole thing. There's a report about that at Sky News (Plebgate Police Officer Admits Misconduct), although I think the headline is a bit misleading: as far as I know, Rowland still maintains that he's telling the truth. Meanwhile, this got a lot of media attention, and Mitchell wound up resigning from the Cabinet, although he's remained as an MP.

Anyway, that Sky report includes an interview with Richard Ottaway (MP for South Croydon) and I heard a quote from that on the radio later: "I think this is a black day for the Metropolitan Police. To discover that a serving police officer has fabricated evidence in an effort to bring down a cabinet minister, in a democracy like Britain's, is frankly as serious as it could possibly get. And if it could happen to a cabinet minister then it could happen to you and me, and that's the biggest concern of all."

When I heard that, it sounded reasonable. However, I've been thinking about it a bit more since then, and I'm not sure that the police deserve all the blame here. Suppose that the police had just reported this incident to Mitchell's boss. (I'm not quite sure how the chain of command works, but the Prime Minister would certainly be higher up.) Would that have led to Mitchell's resignation? I suspect that this is more a case of "trial by media", i.e. the situation became embarrassing for the government after it attracted so much attention. So, the media brought this story to the public's attention, then they reported on people's outrage in reaction to that story. This seems as if they're creating the news rather than just reporting it. So, I think that Ottaway's concerns about the police apply equally to news organisations: should they have the power to take away someone's job? And if they do have that level of influence, should they be more diligent about researching stories before they publish them?

Yesterday, the Telegraph reported on 'forkgate'. Apparently people in New York are upset because the mayor used a (knife and) fork to eat pizza rather than his bare hands. So, the pattern continues. It's not quite the same thing, because that was a publicity event that the mayor arranged himself, but I still think that the media are stirring up trouble under a catchy name.

Personally, I've always maintained that it would be quite difficult for anyone to blackmail me, because I'm quite upfront about the weird stuff I get up to. However, I'm sure that the tabloids could make me look bad if they decided to target me, just by selective reporting. I'm not particularly worried about that, because I'm not prominent enough to attract their attention, but I still have concerns about the balance of power. So, I think it's prudent to be sceptical about news reports, even from the more reputable organisations.

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