2014 in review

Well, it’s that time of the year, folks. That time where I blab on endlessly about my favourite stuff that I discovered in 2014. As ever, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s stuff that was actually released in 2014, just that that is when I discovered it. Though obviously some if it actually is new.

First, though, the year itself. It was very much a year of two halves, with the first half being, well, shite on account of a whole lot of misery and death. Things picked up later on, though, and for the most part ended well. As usual, I’m going to separate into movies, books, games and music. I’m doing music last cos ye gods it was a busy musical year.

So, without further ado, here are my things of the year.

Movies

2014 was an odd year. I rediscovered a lot of my old favourites this year, as well as seeing some new ones. I also watched a whole pile of bloody awful crap. My favourite, though, was an easy (if not popular) choice. My movie of 2014 is the almost universally hated Child of God. Based on one of my favourite novels by Cormac McCarthy, the movie tells the story of Lester Ballard, a dispossessed, violent man whose life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Successively deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation. It’s not a nice movie and it’s not an easy movie to watch, but it is a good movie.

Books

2014 was the year I finally told George R. R. Martin to get lost after realising I’d just read a 4 page description of the inside of a cell. Life is too short. Really. I haven’t read much this year, mainly due to spending so much time wading through Mr Martin’s overly-wordy nonsense. But there is a winner though. The title is an oldie, but not to me. Dolores Claibourne, by Stephen King.

Games

Surprisingly, I’ve played quite a few this year. If I was looking only at hours spent playing, then Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Nintendo Wii-U and 3DS would have to win the prize, clocking up some 300 hours of gameplay and a level of OCD not experienced in this household for a long time. But it’s not about hours spent. The winner, by a country mile, is the sublime The Last Of Us: Remastered on the PS4. The gameplay, the story, the voice acting, the cinematics, everything about this game is perfect. I can’t even say “if anything it was too short/too long” because it took exactly the time needed to tell the story. And spoilers notwithstanding, it’s one I can see myself playing again (once the pain goes away :)).

Music

The biggy. Every album on this list is absolutely magnificent (in my opinion) although there’s obviously a bit of range in terms of genre, musicality and general shoutiness. I’ll outline each briefly.

Alestorm – Sunset on the Golden Age. Pirate metal – fast, melodic and fixated on alcohol.

Amon Amarth – Twilight of the Thunder Gods. Folk metal – driving, shouty, and powerful.

Avantasia – The Mystery of Times. Progressive metal – varied, beautiful.

Blackbeard’s Tea Party – Whip Jamboree. British folk. Quirky and with virtuosity.

Brymir – Fire to the Sun – Folk metal – staggeringly epic.

Ensiferum – From Afar – Folk metal – arguably more folk than metal. Shouty at times.

Evil Scarecrow – Galactic Hunt – just sublime. Parody metal but done with real skill and humour.

Harp and a monkey – All Life Is Here – British folk. Haunting, beautiful and very regional :)

Noah Gundersen – Ledges – American folk. Modern, melancholy and very catchy.

Orphaned Land – All Is One – An Israeli power metal band. Very powerful, very melodic and a beautiful blend of East and West.

OSOG – Cowboys from Ukuhelle  – Folk? Rock? Something? Mental.

Rainbowdragoneyes – The Secret Mirror – 8 bit metal madness. Just plain silly.

Sabaton – Heroes – No idea what genre, except metal. Good metal.

Sonata Arctica – Pariah’s Child – More power metal – a great comeback after a disappointing previous album.

Tuomas Holopainen – The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck – something really special. The guy who does the orchestration for Nightwish doing a story close to his heart. Mainly orchestral, beautiful and powerful.

*Wayne Cantwell – Gathering on Persimmon Hill / Of Mice and Frogs. American old-time folk on banjo, mountain dulcimer and fiddle, with a bit of singing too.

*Wintersun – Time I – Folk metal – astonishingly beautiful despite extreme shoutiness.

So how do you pick a winner out of that lot? With extreme difficulty is the answer. As I said above, these are all fantastic albums in their own way and every one of them is worth seeking out even if you don’t like the genre – if only to broaden your horizons. I originally thought I was going to end up saying “They all win cos it’s too close to call!” and then I thought I’d get it down to five, but it turns out, out of all that varied stuff going on up there, there is a winner.

My album(s) of 2014 are Wayne Cantwell’s old-time American folk albums – for a simple reason. It’s not only the great songs or the great playing, it’s the heart and the honesty he puts into them. We’ve all heard most of these songs before, either by folk singers or in movies, but never with as genuine a voice as this.

You can buy the albums here. Go – stop reading this. Buy.

 

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Destiny! Destiny!

There is no escape for me!

 

Anyway, I caved and bought a next-gen console (in addition to the Wii-U -.-). Usually, I need a critical mass of games I really want before I’ll splurge on a console, and I never got there with the PS3. So far, though, must haves on the PS4 for me are Shadows of Mordor, No Man’s Sky, The Evil Within, Alien Isolation, Silent Hills, The Last of Us Remastered and, of course, Destiny.

So, I’m about a week in and I’m in love with the game. I can see where the next-gen-ness comes from. Not just the graphics (although ultra-pretty, ultra-smooth-framerate and huuuuuge draw distance is nice) but in the AI. The enemies are just fecking sneaky. The game itself is all kinds of awesome and is constantly surprising me with just how huge it is. It’s ticking all the right boxes for me, especially in the “if you can see it you can go there” stakes.

So, in short, very happy. Currently running a warlock at level 14 and getting more engrossed every day.

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Spicy Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker / crockpot

So, you have a 3kg lump of boneless pork shoulder in your fridge and you want to do something awesome with it. Here’s what to do. Combine the following.

  • 50g/2oz soft dark brown sugar
  • 5 tbsp smoked hot paprika
  • 3 tbsp sea salt flakes
  • 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp ground fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp dry mustard powder

Rub about 50% of this into the pork, getting it into all the nooks and crannies. I usually remove the skin and untie the pork first, just to make sure I get as much of the rub on as I possibly can.

Dump it in a big bowl and cover with tinfoil then put in the fridge to marinade. A couple of hours will do, but if you can do overnight that’s even better – particularly as you’re going to be doing it in a slow cooker.

Once you’re marinaded, put a couple of roughly chopped onions, some garlic cloves and about 150ml of boiling water in the bottom of the slow cooker and set it on high.

Rub the rest of the marinade into the pork, stick it in the slow cooker, put the lid on and leave it alone for 8 hours.

After the 8 hours are up, lift out the pork (you may need a spoon to do it :)) and put it on a chopping board. Cover with foil and leave for half an hour to rest.

Use a couple of forks to pull the pork.

Eat.

Repeat.

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Still think the BBC is impartial?

So, at a presentation for the international media yesterday, Nick Robinson of the BBC asked Alex Salmond a question. Not only was it answered comprehensively, but it must have made some slightly uncomfortable listening for Mr Robinson. Here’s what happened.

As state broadcaster, the BBC obviously had to cover this. Here’s what they broadcast.

 

 

Impartial?

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Sometimes you need a smile

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I think social media is largely killing the blogs of people like me who generally don’t have much to say :) But I found this picture and it made me smile, so I’m gonna put it here in the hope that it makes you smile too.

Peace

J

Happy Life

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A New World

So, with the demise of my previous Dwarf Fortress due to an unexpected flooding and all the carp-related issues that brings, it’s time to generate a new world to try out all the shiny new weirdnesses that 0.40 brings. Here’s the world in question. Wish me luck – I’m going to have “fun”.

The New World.png

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OUTAAAAGE!

So, nelefa.org fell off the internet last night, for the first time since 1997. This was thanks to the company hosting the domain screwing up the renewal process by, well, not renewing :-/ As their tech support department are only around during UK office hours, this resulted in the domain vanishing until lunchtime today.

This affected everything – not just the website. So if anyone has emailed and got a bounce back – well, try again and it’ll work :)

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Michael, Row the Boat Ashore

We’ve all stopped talking about Pete Seeger, now that the loss isn’t quite so keenly felt. But you’re not forgotten, Pete. You’ll never be forgotten.

 

 

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West Highland Way

So, I’m doing the West Highland Way in July. I’ll be posting updates here as cell coverage / wifi availability allows. Really looking forward to it – a bit of isolation and hard graft is something I sorely need right now.

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Darling Molly Gray

A simple but lovely tune, playing in open G tuning on a Shackleton banjo.

 

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Random Fact

Two wrongs don't make a right, but two Wrights did once make an aeroplane. Unless you're talking integer maths where two wrongs DO actually make a right. Also, three lefts make a right.