Category Archives: Review

A Green Day in Amsterdam

“Ah, tea time for you?”

The man behind the counter of Paradox, a very well recommended coffee shop in Amsterdam, spoke to my girlfriend from his lofty height as she chose from a pile of exotic teabags. He must have been about 6′ 10″. Black hair spewed from his head and was caught up in a scraggly ponytail. A bulging belly was ill-hidden behind a loose, grey T-shirt with something oddly phallic printed on it. Clearly a friendly chap, and with no qualms over selling one of several potent space cakes to two clueless tourists, “Tea Time For You” man helped make the whole experience memorable.

View of Westerkerk and canal

And what an experience.

From the outside, Paradox is partially obscured by a thick layer of creeper. It finds itself tucked away down Eerste Bloemdwarsstraat, seconds from the bustle of the city’s north-westerly quarter. In our haste and with swimmy vision from a semi-liquid lunch, my girlfriend and I – both with a bike between our legs – peddled the warren of back alleys and dead ends for ten minutes before realising that Paradox had been under our noses the whole time. An excited, “there it is!” from my better half ended our search; we parked up and nervously wandered over.

“You first.” She ushered me towards the door. The building’s navy-fronted framework displayed the shop’s name in quickly-written, graffiti-ish letters. Someone walked out as we walked in.

CanalsCrossing the threshold was like stepping into a room filled with cotton wool. The thick air, green and hazy, gave us a warm hug. We received stares from patrons. Not unfriendly. Unfamiliar. In one corner, a man sat on his own with a newspaper spread across the table, pipe in hand. In the middle, two younger guys were chatting in Dutch. In the other corner, a man and his girlfriend.

At the counter (it was kind of a counter and a bar at the same time), the friendly giant with the dodgy T-shirt. Three elderly chaps sat on stools smoking and laughing. We approached hesitantly.

IMG_2597Before we arrived in Amsterdam we’d heard rumours that coffee shops weren’t allowed to serve foreigners. With this in mind, I braced for a shameful rejection and jeers from the locals. Not the case. Our eyes fell on a plate of space cakes covered with a glass cloche. They were sprinkled with icing sugar, wrapped in cling film, and each displayed a note describing the effects, recommended dosage, and the amount of weed in each €6 slice: 1.25g.

“You’re only small; just have about a quarter” my girlfriend was told. We had half each.

We were told to wait two hours before the effects kicked in. It was 3:30pm when the last nibble past our lips and we headed off. The missus had already had two giggle fits in the space of fifteen minutes. I wasn’t feeling a thing.

IMG_2604The ride back to the hotel was fun. We were going out for dinner that night but needed to get back to hand our bikes in at reception. The small matter of having spent an hour in Paradox was yet to be dealt with.

We spent the entire bike ride giggling like schoolchildren with me dinging my bell unnecessarily loud and often at no one and everyone. I hate to think what the people walking and jogging round Vondelpark thought of us. We raced, weaving in and out of dog walkers and other cyclists, shouting and, basically, living up to the ‘Brits abroad’ stereotype.

IMG_2632

By half past five, precisely two hours after we’d left Paradox, my eyelids felt like someone was hanging onto them and my vision was lagging when I turned my head. The missus could barely breathe for laughing at the merest thing. I could’ve handed her a cardboard box and she’d have been in stitches.

Needless to say, dinner and subsequent cocktails flashed past in a sea of giggles, rocking back and fourth in our seats, lots of delicious food, and ended with a couple of free tram rides – go figure! Amsterdam, we love you. And we’re coming back for more.

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Say Hello To My Little Friend: Part II

I’ve written before about the start of a fantastical dagger collection that I’ve undertaken. Well that collection’s grown by one. Meet “Pitch Black”, the second of my swirly-shaped knives to form up rank on my windowsill (it’s the only feasible place to keep them, all right? That, and it wards off burglars because I face the street…).

As the name suggests, this dagger’s as black as night. I keep it well sharpened too, you know, just in case. But, besides its irresistible allure and obvious ability to slay any beast that stands in my way, the gosh-darned blighter’s about as comfortable to grip as a nail board for a skiing pole!

Unlike my other beloved dragon-forged slasher, Pitch Black definitely belongs on the mantlepiece. There’s no defined hilt and, god forbid, if it was your only available resource for disposing of an advancing foe, you’d do your stabby hand in quicker than you would the offender thanks to the clumsily-designed blade shaft. As menacing as this futuristic shank looks, it wouldn’t do you much use in a street fight, unless you were wearing chainmail gloves.

Pitch Black was also purchased from Barringtons Swords, but is recently out of stock.

Say Hello To My Little Friend: Part I

Until last year I’d never owned a weapon before. Okay, my brother’s air rifle sits in a cupboard gathering dust, complete with a few hundred pellets and stacks of paper targets. But – alas – it was never mine.

This changed the day a man knocked at the door and handed me a long, heavily wrapped parcel about the size of a two-by-four. What now takes pride and place on my windowsill was my first of two fantasy daggers. Think of me what you will, but it’s beautiful; sleek curves, sharp edges, the dragon’s head handle design, a six inch stainless steel blade. Holding it feels like restoring part of my arm back to normal.

“But that’s a dangerous weapon”, my dad incredulously exclaimed when he first saw it. I like to think of it more of an ornamental work of art; the start of a collection to satisfy my fascination. One day I’d like to have an armoury behind a hidden door in the wall of my basement.

In case you’re wondering, I purchased this product from Barringtons Swords.

Bored-erlands

Strip the flesh! Salt the wound!

During the second year of my undergrad degree, a lot of my time was dominated by one particular game: Borderlands. I was drawn to its unique artistic aesthetics, the plethora of weaponry (I’ve an unhealthy obsession with knives and guns), and the game’s overall “screw you” attitude.

A few months ago it came to my attention that Borderlands’ bigger brother was on his way. He sounded like more of a badass with more intelligent weapons, a host of characters who gave a lot less of a damn than the first lot, and an antagonist who no-one would get tired of shooting at.

I was excited. So excited, in fact, that I bought a new television.

When BL2 plopped through my letterbox I dashed downstairs, ripped the paper and cellophane off, stuffed the disc into my PS3 and collapsed onto my beanbag with giddy anticipation.

I sunk hours and hours into this beautiful, darkly-humoured powerhouse of a game. I traversed lush, craggy, mountainous landscapes, fought slag-infested purple lizards that vanish mid-battle, head-shotted hundreds of nomads, psychos, marauders, and oh-god-not-you-again varkids, drove around like a maniac in suped-up jeeps, explosive barrels mounted to the back, decimating all in my path. My armoury grew to rival the size of the entire US army, air-force and navy put together. I was a walking god of destruction, as is the custom when you play Borderlands. It’s just what happens.

And then, one day, I thought: “Can I be bothered to continue?” I’m about level 35 out of 50 (Gearbox will probably increase the maximum cap with some DLC), and I’ve reached a saturation point.

The appeal had, dare I even dream it, worn off. Sure, the game will always be a visual feast for the eyes. But the gameplay, like Skyrim, got repetitive: go there, kill that, come back. Kill the previous target’s harder brother, come back. Go back and kill the harder-than-the-first-target’s even more badass grandfather, come back, and be rewarded with something that, frankly, 99% of the time I’d sell quicker than I’d put to use.

Maybe it’s not the game’s fault. Maybe it’s me. Maybe my attention-span or expectations were out of whack. I think Gearbox built up the finale way too much. I’ve no real intention to finish off Handsome Jack, even if I did dispose of BNK3R, dodge all his mortars, and waste half his army of robotic maniacs and engineers, snipers, and the god-awfully-irritating constructors.

Essentially, nothing new happens quick enough, especially towards the end. Returning to areas you’ve recently cleared means you have to deal with the same string of enemies again or run’n’jump your way past them. Neither method is fun unless you’re looking to loot for ammo.

Three things I loved about BL2: 

  • Games are works of art in themselves, yes. But BL2 exceeds that. It strives to be an outlandish, loud, in-your-face poster-paint painting and succeeds. My eyes scoured every pixel of environment and loved them all.
  • The dialogue and character personalities are hilarious. They’re so over-the-top but so uniquely Borderlands that they’re acceptable and a pleasure to listen to.
  • The weaponry and random loot system kept me surprised and forced me to choose whether to keep a gun I loved using, or sell it on to make room. It’s something you never normally consider, but BL2 makes you.

Three things that put me off (eventually):

  • The repetitiveness. I know, I know, it’s bound to happen in an RPG. It was more subtle in Skyrim, but it still occurred.
  • Game progression got too slow and then predictable.
  • Constant running and gunning killed being able to keep up with the story. I’d find myself in a fire-fight and need to re-read my objective after each one. Sort of a “now, where were we before we got so rudely interrupted?” scenario.