A plea from Alan Partridge to WWE – stop getting Wrestlemania wrong!

The biggest date in the sports entertainment calendar is under threat, as the WWE unleashes a card of absolute mehness for Wrestlemania 32.

There’s a scene in I’m Alan Partridge, where Alan’s assembled friends, employees and a surly ex-copper are trying to remember which Bond film is which. Confusion reigns before Alan shouts at everyone to “STOP GETTING BOND WRONG!”

stop getting bond wrong

This would form the base of the impassioned plea that I have for Vince McMahon and the other higher-ups at the WWE. STOP GETTING WRESTLEMANIA WRONG!

Hitting the big time

For the first ever Wrestlemania in 1985, the WWE had staked its whole future on making the original event work, with celebrity appearances from Muhammad Ali, Mr T and Liberace boosting the mainstream appeal alongside the very biggest names in pro wrestling. The headline bout of Wrestlemania I saw the tag team of WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan and Mr T defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. While the bout was by no means a classic, it did deliver in the entertainment factor and in the grandeur that fans look for during the WWE’s flagship PPV event.

Which is why I’ve been tremendously disappointed by this year’s build to the big event. With the exception of one exciting, potentially very brutal match which could steal the show despite the WWE’s best efforts to derail it with dodgy booking, there’s not much to look forward to this year.

Because it goes without saying that Wrestlemania is the single biggest event in pro wrestling, it sometimes seems as if the WWE believe that the show will book itself. At a time when they can expect both hardcore fans and casual viewers to at least take an interest in the build-up – if not to shell out their £9.99 for the chance to see it – there’s been a disturbing lack of effort in building towards a must-see show.

And while in terms of financial gain, the company can already chalk it up in the win column, managing to keep the fans happy with a card of intrigue, excitement and action appears to be beyond them yet again.

Getting Bond wrong

We all know how much I love Dean Ambrose at this point, and his upcoming Street Fight against Brock Lesnar is my pick for best-built match. But there’s been a hint that the Wyatt Family will turn up to cost Lesnar the match with screwy work. This means the writers are blatantly ignoring the more valuable objective – organically turning Ambrose into a fully-fledged superstar with a commanding performance all of his own, win or lose.

Besides that, even as far back as the Royal Rumble, when we were given a Rumble match for the World Title rather than a challenger for the belt in the Wrestlemania main event, the WWE failed to predict the ramifications.

Without the momentum afforded to a Rumble winner and their talking up the Wrestlemania main event, it doesn’t look as if the title match will even be the main event – not when there’s a badly-built match between two part-timers to be had.

Here comes the money

I was as excited as anyone to see Shane McMahon back in the WWE, skipping down the aisle on Raw to challenge Vince for control of the company. But then I realised that we’ve been here so, so many times before.

shane mcmahon wrestlemania 32

Vince told Shane that he would be facing The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania – and aside from one of Shane’s standout diving elbows onto the Taker through an announce table, there’s been so little in the way of story, or logic, leading into this match. And while I’ve no doubt that Shane will relive his stuntman days of falling or diving off something high during the bout, that alone is not enough to keep my interest in the stipulation – let alone where Taker’s motivation to do Vince’s bidding has come from.

As if it weren’t bad enough that Wrestlemania 32 could be headlined by two middle-aged part-time performers, it’s even worse when you realise that only two of the six men featured in the top three matches are actually wrestling on WWE TV every week of the year.

I’m not especially looking forward to Roman Reigns vs Triple H for the World Title – neither man should be World champion – but keeping it out of the main event in favour of Taker/Shane shows you how little confidence the company has in touting their current storylines on what WWE calls the grandest stage of them all.

What else is there to look forward to? Aside from the sight of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn beating the crap out of each other – while five other men are involved in a ladder match for Owens’ IC title – not much. Maybe AJ Styles vs Jericho will provide something new…or maybe not, we’ve seen it many times already now.

All told, the idea that Wrestlemania sells itself can be a double-edged sword. While the brand is known worldwide and can expect to draw many new eyes to the current product, it’s the more loyal fans who have been made to suffer through yet another flat build and would be right to vent their frustrations at the expected outcomes by voting with their remote controls on Monday nights – and more importantly, their wallets.

The X-Files 2016: monsters good, conspiracies bad

Fourteen years on from the last meaningful contact we had with them, and iconic FBI Agents Mulder and Scully are back on the case for six new TV episodes promising intrigue, visual spectacle and – maybe, just maybe – some answers to the big questions of the overarching mythology of The X-Files.

Six brand new episodes later, and I’m still none the bloody wiser. But we’ll get to that.

the-truth-is-out-there

‘Monster of the week’ – big successes

The middle four episodes of the new seasons of The X-Files were at times gripping, action-packed and even hilarious. Episode two continued to give me a sinking feeling before we finally hit upon a trio of decent-to-good episodes of the ‘monster of the week’ variety which gave the show its original cult appeal back in the 1990s.

My favourite by far of the new run was ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, an episode written in much the same tongue-in-cheek manner as was worthy of their finest funny moments during the original run – but critically, made to be fresh and funny for this new age of TV rather than tinged with the camp sense of irony which we got so used to back then.

Relying on the old formula of scepticism versus belief, this battle was turned upside down with a few choice reveals about the guest stars Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani, and some fantastically funny interpretations of the evidence including some ridiculous testimony by Darby’s character that he’d seduced Agent Scully in his place of work.

If we’d been treated to a few more episodes like this, without the need to drag up the over-arcing storyline which began to bog The X-Files down in its own pretentiousness first time round, we could have chalked the whole thing down as a job well done. But…ugh.

Mulder and scully x files 2016

The mythology episodes – big disappointments

When The X-Files first aired on the BBC, the scheduling was…let’s call it inconsistent. Being pre-empted at the drop of a hat for an episode of Question Time or, say, the World Hat Dropping Championships, meant that it got difficult to keep up with events if the show aired elsewhere that week. The bulk of the one-off episodes and the odd injection of long-term plot was fine to miss every now and then, but over time it became apparent that you just couldn’t miss a single episode or you’d be stuffed trying to keep up.

And at that age, and with that scheduling, well…I was stuffed.

With only six episodes in the entire run, even with a Sky+ box that’s temperamental at the worst of times, I didn’t expect to be hard done by from the scheduling this time. Sadly, the producers of the show decided to give us that same sense of baffling treatment themselves in the way they tried to cram a full six episodes’ worth of mythology material into two – and failed badly.

Entire scenes whizzed by and left me none the wiser as to what the hell just happened. Logical, reasoned discussion gave way to frenzied declarations like “the other shoe is waiting to drop!” or “No one has the right or the ability to tamper with your DNA,” as if we’re supposed to be caught up on 12 years of evidence-gathering in 12 seconds. This is The X-Files; I’m prepared to suspend my disbelief for a few minutes until another plot thread comes in to tide me over, but during the two rushed episodes which made up ‘My Struggle’ I was left hanging for ages at a time without any reason or willingness to go with it.

I don’t want to spoil things but the plausibility which the programme spent nine and a bit seasons trying to make you doubt really came through in the final ten minutes, as Scully performed the job of a team of medical scientists alone, in seemingly ten minutes.

On the whole, the X-Files revival was an excellent trip down memory lane in all the houses that are still lit up fondly – the one-off mysteries – but failed spectacularly to turn the lights on elsewhere – the headache-inducing twists and turns of the mythology. Judging by that cliffhanger it looks like we could see Mulder and Scully (not to mention Miller and Einstein, the weird Mini-Me characters) again down the line – but Scully herself would be proud of my scepticism that the conspiracy plot will be worth the return.

 

Dean Ambrose could be a made man after Wrestlemania 32

While the WWE is busy driving the whole ‘Road To Wrestlemania’ thing into the ground with the Fastlane/Roadblock motif, I’m getting mildly nervous at the prospect that the only thing going into the ground is Dean Ambrose’s babyface cred.

Dean_Ambrose_durante_un_House_Show_di_gennaio_2015.jpg By Anton – WWE House Show – Garrett Coliseum – 1/10/15, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39931017

From being betrayed by his brother Seth Rollins, to the near-miss in their Ladder match for the title and even the Dusty Finish which had him ever-so-briefly crowned champion, Dean Ambrose has been edging closer to the big time – added to his great showing at the Royal Rumble 2016, fans are starting to get a bit edgy that his moment isn’t gonna come any time soon.

And that’s a real shame, because Dean Ambrose is over as hell. By coming so close and being denied so much, Ambrose earns the sympathy from the audience at large that’s been missing since Daniel Bryan got his own Wrestlemania moment two years ago. I’m not about to compare the two in terms of ring skill; Bryan is one of the best ever wrestlers to step between the ropes, while I see Ambrose more as a WWE Superstar than I do a wrestler – but a great one nonetheless. But while the focus of WWE programming is focused on someone else, there’s little chance for Ambrose to get his shot in – which could actually be beneficial in the long run.

Waiting for Roman

Times are few and far between that the Venn diagram of ‘crowd favourite’ and ‘Vince McMahon’s favourite’ have settled on the very same person – this has been the case for years. Ever since we had co-winners at the 1994 Royal Rumble, when Bret Hart was roundly cheered by fans, much more so than the backstage pick Lex Luger (and with good cause) has there been a battle for prominence on the card.

While we’ve (somewhat) patiently waited for the current holder of Vince’s brass ring, Roman Reigns, to get over, Dean Ambrose has more than ably settled in as the best friend and tag team partner to his Shield brother. And while Reigns has been given opportunity after opportunity (by storyline sworn enemies Authority figures Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who aren’t fans of logic), it seemed like Ambrose made the most of the few opportunities he was given, among them the World title ladder match and Elimination Chamber title shot.

Roman_Reigns_November_2013

But despite all his various sidlings into main events, Reigns has simply not connected with the crowd in the way that Ambrose has just because a lot of fans don’t like to be told who they’re supposed to cheer for; something Reigns knows full well from when he came up against a previous McMahon-designated project, Batista, at the 2014 Rumble, and fell short.

Getting over

It’s one of the WWE Universe’s biggest bug-bears; the ongoing battle between the performers who go out every night and earn their reaction, and the pet projects who are seemingly unbeatable – which in itself creates no tension at all when it comes to the crunch. Ambrose has picked himself up from every defeat – including the recent loss of his Intercontinental title to Kevin Owens – dusted himself off and promised to do whatever it takes to get to the top.

That is how you get the babyface reactions. Just ask Steve Austin – you try, you fail, you get right back on the horse and try again. You don’t smirk, pump your fist and get yet another eye-rollingly easy win against ‘all’ the odds – this is the sort of booking that just makes your opponents look weak, no matter how many of them there are at once and what dumb name they give themselves.

Much as we can dream, Ambrose isn’t likely to pick up the WWE World Title with a win at Roadblock, but he’ll again come heartbreakingly close.

And at Wrestlemania, there’ll be a key moment coming in Ambrose’s career, once the dust settles on his Street Fight against Brock Lesnar. Whatever the result of this particular ‘slobberknocker’, Dean Ambrose’s character has been solidified such that he can become a made man within the WWE by making Lesnar work incredibly hard to beat him. He could even end up visibly earning Lesnar’s respect once their final trip to Suplex City has been arranged, on the grandest stage of them all – proving Ambrose’s resilience and finally getting him over the top as a guy worthy of grabbing the brass ring.

Nova 111 – a quirky delight of science

So I was in a branch of your friendly neighbourhood game retail shop earlier today, parting with an unreasonable amount of money for some Fallout 4 DLC – one day before the price rises to an even more unreasonable amount. As I emerged blinking into the cold street, I got a little warm glow from remembering the much cheaper and really fun experience I had in completing Nova 111.

nova111

Available as part of the February Playstation Plus package, Nova 111 can be best described as a turn-based space puzzle game – even though there are just as many real-time elements to it. You play as a quirky little little orange ship, navigating your way by turns through the remnants of an ambitious science experiment gone wrong, in a bid to rescue its stranded scientists.

Each level takes the form of a series of puzzles through which you must progress using a blend of turn-based and real-time action. Every move you take is a step closer to refilling your Science! Bar, with which you can use a variety of power-ups to phase through walls, fire energy blasts at enemies and even to temporarily freeze time.

As you progress through the game, each level throws up new and scarier enemies to test your newfound Science! skills and challenge your puzzling abilities, accompanied by Dr. Science who provides amusing commentaries on all his experiments with time and space.

Getting back to the Fallout 4 debacle of earlier today, it’s of real comfort to me to realise that, for every unreasonable amount of money I’m expected to shell out to sample more of a Triple A game which I’ve already paid for, that there are new and exciting things happening on a much smaller scale, with the likes of Nova 111 showing up on my monthly downloads and providing a really pleasant gaming experience that taxes my mind as much as it tickles my other senses, with neat graphics and some fantastically twinkly synth sound design.

Considering its relatively miniscule stature, Nova 111 comes across very well-polished and, short of the odd steep hike on the difficulty curve, extremely well-designed. I know I bought a Playstation 4 with visions of AAA titles like GTAV and Fallout 4 dancing in my head like visions of sugar plums, but I love that the very same console can bring me these little gems too.

Making Mixtapes For Girls

So this weekend I’ve been getting a music education. And by that I mean, I struck a deal with a colleague.

Apparently the deal was, she linked me to songs by Mariah Carey and Beyonce, and I died a little inside each time I pressed Play.

In return I got two of my best shots in – a boozy, depressed Alkaline Trio number and a downbeat but defiant Tom Waits effort.

This experience, along with a memory of a ridiculous bid to impress an ex-girlfriend that I remembered while out on a recent tune-filled stroll, has got me thinking about all those lengths I used to go to, to let the music do the talking for me.

Moe the simpsons declaring intentions

Everybody’s got their views on mixtapes – Rob from High Fidelity, Barney Stinson and his friend Not-Moby among others. But for all the tapes and CDs I made with romantic intentions, I still couldn’t resist including a couple of tracks that were more just ‘this is what I like, and you should like it too’. Not especially romantic, not especially friendly even – for every ‘nice waking up next to you’ there was a ‘this is a rock ‘n’ roll takeover’ that blurred the message somewhat.

But more than my insistence on enriching a special someone’s music experience with whatever I was listening to that month, comes the annoyance with myself for taking the lazy route. It may be that ‘all my favourite singers have stolen all of my best lines’, but looking back I wish I’d still exerted a little more energy in expressing my own true feelings.

VH1’s (hiding) behind the music

In everyday life just as in my life’s worth of mixtape-making, I have this awful habit of hiding behind pop culture, when I should just be expressing my raw feelings and emotions instead. Rather than making an accurate articulation of my hurt, or pride, or surprise, or affection, I immediately make a lateral move into an impression from that episode of Frasier where he bellows “I…am…WOUNDED!” instead of just saying it in my own voice. Instead of dealing with the feeling from my gut, I find myself reaching past it into my brain for an equivalent from TV or films because it’s easier not to admit it out loud.

But before that, I settled for the long and drawn-out efforts of filling up 74 or 90 minutes of CD or tape with a bunch of songs that said more about my likes than my feelings. That’s why, if you were the unlucky lady somewhere between 1998 and 2006, you were more likely to get Every Time I Die than Elvis – a generational thing, I can only suspect.

(Out of interest, how do young men and women make their intentions clear nowadays? A Spotify playlist doesn’t have the same done-it-myself level of care taken, and you can’t use all your different coloured pens to make a nice cover either.)

I was reminded of an early and embarrassing romantic gesture the other day; my head full of all that nonsense I mentioned up top, a song came on my iPod which made me remember one of the first albums I ever gave to a girl. Trust me, there’s nothing on here that makes you think what a romantic sod I could secretly be – I’ve checked.

But the fact of the matter is, she wasn’t particularly that type anyway, so even if I had dared to give her something that was of the more flowery variety than this post-hardcore classic, she’d have laughed me out of the room.

Back then, at the age of 17 or so, I was hardly likely to possess the emotional intelligence to say much beyond ‘thanks for paying attention to me, now can I see your boobs?’ (In fact, that could’ve been the title of the first mix I made.) I definitely didn’t have the confidence for it – talking to girls was never something for my Lurve CV – so in a way it was something of a rescue. To be able to hide behind someone else’s music to promote feelings that, if not genuinely shared by me, occupied a close enough space in my head that I didn’t feel like too much of a fraud for setting up shop next door.

While I’m glad that I don’t really need music now to tell someone how much I care for them, thinking about those CDs I used to burn in lieu of spoken affection does make me wish I’d tried a bit harder to express myself back then, so that maybe it wouldn’t be so much of an issue for me in the future.

BBC Three – heading online-only for the youth market

I’m going to use that word tonight, aren’t I. That catch-all phrase for marketers who want to spend money making videos and podcasts and live streams to promote their product.

Content.

Eww. But since the government’s been content to slowly murder the BBC – death by a thousand cuts – they need to start up generating the other form of that word in order to get some bang for their buck.

So once BBC Three goes online-only (two weeks tomorrow if I’m not mistaken), the producers, programmers and bosses are confident that they’ll catch more of their market. Why’s that?

BBC Three logo online

BBC News reported on a study by Childwise, which has found that for the first time ever, five to sixteen-year olds are spending more time online than they are watching standard TV. And even then, Netflix is the most watched channel.

Less than a quarter of 15 and 16-year olds will watch TV as it’s broadcast, and nearly a third did not name a favourite TV programme.

All of a sudden I can’t tell if the BBC Three move online is a good or a bad thing.

I do know that the BBC’s been producing video content – shudder – and posting it online for a good long while now in an attempt to hook the yoof into watching their stuff on proper TV.

We all know where the youth dollar goes now – vloggers. I hate that word even more than ‘content’.

And, tellingly, the BBC has been painfully slow in getting to cover this topic for de yoofs market. Only tonight are we promised a programme about ‘superstar vloggers’, which for some completely unknown reason is being hosted by one of the very same superstars.

Bit much, really. Without caring to watch it – because fuck that, Impractical Jokers is on – I don’t see how you can expect to make a neutral, one-step-removed look at the whole thing by asking one of them to present it. It’d be like getting Robbie Savage to present a show about irritating ex-footballers.

There’s more programmes to come in this ‘online’ season of youth-oriented documentaries. I will be watching tomorrow’s – about eSports, for research – but I may join those youngsters with their hip hop and their happy slaps and watch it online at a later date instead.

I suppose we’ll yet find out how the new focus on the future will affect BBC Three viewers after it disappears from our telly boxes and exists solely online. I wonder if they’re expecting more hits than Zoella. Or if they even know who she is.

(Why do I know who she is? I work in content marketing, innit blud.)

Talking Points From The 2016 Royal Rumble match

Like most WWE PPVs of late, the Royal Rumble had its ups and downs. Let’s talk about some of the biggest issues and incidents.

Royal Rumble 2016 talking points

Your winner…and new WWE Champion

Roman Reigns went in at number one, and not many thought he’d be capable of wrestling more than hour in order to retain his title. So when Vince McMahon sicced his League of Nations (minus King Barrett) on Reigns, and Rusev sent him crashing through a table, Reigns received the stretcher job treatment – meaning it was only a matter of time until he returned to win.

So as Reigns began his comeback out of nowhere against the incoming number 29 entrant, Sheamus, the fix appeared to be in. That is, until Triple H entered the Rumble at number 30 and duly took the title. Reigns was actually the second-to-last man to be eliminated from the match, leaving Triple H in the ring against an absolutely fantastic Dean Ambrose, who the crowd got behind fiercely.

The art of salesmanship

Speaking of fierce, the reaction to both Ambrose and Kevin Owens’ Rumble entrances following their absolutely fantastic Last Man Standing match was something to behold. Meanwhile, after taking a particularly intense beating himself, Reigns sprang as if out of nowhere to surprise Sheamus with a Superman Punch in the aisle, later in the very same match.

It reminded me very much of the events of the 1994 Royal Rumble, in which co-winners Bret Hart and Lex Luger were both subjected to some rough treatment. Earlier in the night, Bret was attacked by his brother Owen, who took his frustrations out on Bret’s leg. The image of Kevin Owens’ entry into the Rumble last night was almost identical – maybe even in homage – to Bret, as both men dragged a bad leg behind them on the way into the ring to equally big pops from the crowd.

bretrumble

Luger, like Reigns, was jumped and beaten by two assailants before he could enter the match – but as soon as his number came up, Luger hit the ring like a house on fire, with absolutely no regard for selling the condition he’d been put in. Reigns’ entrance and subsequent domination of those in the ring was equally far-fetched.

I get that last night was all about defying the odds, but Reigns’ sudden revitalisation as he re-entered the match came off as so clumsy.

Brock vs Bray

It’s looking likely that a match between Brock Lesnar and Bray Wyatt is set to happen at Wrestlemania 32. This after Lesnar’s impact in the ring was dampened by the members of the Wyatt Family, whose leader Bray oversaw Brock’s elimination by his loyal subjects. The Wyatt Family put on a great performance in the ring – well, Luke Harper did at least but that’s nothing new – and may be on their way to establishing themselves as the big deal fans always thought they could be.

It’s just a shame Lesnar will go over at Mania – and that their big green giant of a man, Braun Strowman, continues to receive any prominent focus.

Chris Jericho – iron man?

I always liked Chris Jericho – he’s had some fantastic wrestling matches in his time, and can always be relied upon to put in a great performance and help put over young talent.

Which is why it’s so baffling to me that Jericho went more than 50 minutes – only Reigns ‘went’ longer. All that and with only one elimination to his name, I found it kind of strange that Chris Jericho was portrayed in the Rumble run-up as one of the frontrunners to win the match. But with the depleted roster, and the resultant need for a big name, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he’d been offered a big deal to be portrayed as a big deal in return.

Standouts and surprises

What with the match being for the World title rather than a shot at Wrestlemania, it made sense not to rely on the surprise guests and comedy spots – but that doesn’t mean we weren’t treated to some excellent Royal Rumble surprises.

AJ Styles WWE

Image by Zohyo

 

The worst-kept secret in professional wrestling was revealed, as the number three entrant turned out to be AJ Styles, fresh from NJPW and a bona fide wrestling star. His entrance was somewhat tainted as we couldn’t see the reveal of ‘The Phenomenal One’ on the Titantron – the TV cameras were trained on Reigns. And while it was too much to ask to have a debuting Styles go deep into the match, he still put on a great showing in his debut match.

The chain of events around this time were especially great. It was left to the other indie darling, Kevin Owens to eliminate Styles, who’d gone nearly half an hour in the match – only to be dumped out by his former friend and NXT Championship rival, Sami Zayn.

All in all I quite enjoyed the Rumble event – it certainly an improvement on the last two – but once again it’s been a case of making the best of what they had instead of planning ahead a little more. Assuming Roman Reigns is going to get his crowning moment at Wrestlemania once again – and assuming as well they don’t have an emergency ripcord to pull like they did last year – it could be an interesting few weeks ahead.

Dave Bowie, from t’ Dave Bowie Band

I’ve had three Bowie albums in my Amazon basket for over a week now. Even though they’re physically out of stock, they’re still hovering in the ether, waiting to be bought.

David Bowie died, and made a hole in the B section of the Rock & Pop shelves at HMV.

David Bowie Low album cover

He had his own section at the front of the store. I thought the grief-vultures had already moved to maximise their profits but then I remembered Bowie had a new album out anyway, so it was probably already there – along with a couple of 90s efforts that they just wanted shifting.

Bowie made music while he knew he was dying – probably because he knew he was dying. Nothing like teetering on the edge of forever to get you feeling creative. It’s bound to add some sense of perspective.

Everybody had something to say about him, even those who have wasted 140 characters of their life on Twitter to say that they have nothing to say about him. Maybe they just didn’t want to feel left out.

I’ve been trying to work out how best to say it myself. A brilliant talented man gone, having touched so many of the people in my life:

 

David Bowie Heroes album cover

My dad, a fellow cancer victim, absolutely loved him. His vinyl collection is in the corner of this very room; there’s definitely some Bowie in there.

My older brother who, like me, grew up liking all the same stuff our dad inflicted on us. We don’t normally text each other with ‘OMG did you hear’ texts, but this time it felt more than necessary.

My fiancée, who was charmed and frightened in equal measure as a little girl by seeing Labyrinth so many times. When we first met, ‘Bowie and his massive package’ was the subject of more than one drunken discussion with friends. The inclusion of ‘Magic Dance’ in our wedding ceremony was and is up for debate, even before he died.

There’s been more than a bit of hand-wringing for each ‘national treasure’  that we’ve lost since, in what’s been an absolutely horrible run of it. But for all the usual outbursts of ‘aww, not that guy, he was cool’, Bowie’s death actually turned me silent, contemplative, inwardly reflective.

That quiet reflection was best summed up today, which is why I wanted to write about it. It’s a nice bookend to the whole thing.

David Bowie Lodger album cover

My local independent record shop; 1.30pm, Saturday afternoon. I decide that I don’t want to wait and see if those Bowie CDs are in stock at Amazon before I order them and have to wait some more.

There’s a Bowie section in here, too – but again, there always was. Right next to The Rolling Stones.

That’s an especially poignant placement because as I approach the shelves, I realise what’s playing in the shop – his cover of ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ from Aladdin Sane.

These shelves have been well ransacked too; no copies of Station to Station or Young Americans. Not even Ziggy. Even HMV had a couple of copies of Ziggy left.

Only a few left in here, including the exact three I wanted: Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. Multiple copies left of each.

I approach the counter. The bloke looks up and takes my CDs off me.

Let’s Spend gives way to Suffragette City; there’s a weird feeling in the air as I go for my wallet, buying Bowie CDs in an otherwise empty record shop that’s playing Bowie.

He only tells me the price. I only tell him thanks. No more needed to be said, really.

——

With him gone, there’s fewer people around who can so effectively suck up all that creative energy out of the air and turn it into something beautiful. This evening I’ll be listening to the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ and trying to figure out how I can hoover up my fair share of it.

Royal Rumble 2016 predictions

In which Roman Reigns is made to look really strong.

We’re under a week away from what’s probably my favourite WWE event of the year, but at the time of writing I can’t even decide if I want to take the next morning off work to watch it.

Normally going into a Royal Rumble match there’s a large enough degree of uncertainty about what’s going to happen to keep it interesting – but in the company’s latest mission to make Roman Reigns look like an unstoppable superhuman it’s verging on the incredible. And not in a good way.

Royal Rumble 2016 predictions

For the first time ever, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship will be defended in the actual Royal Rumble match. Unlike previous years where the winner gets the World title shot at Wrestlemania, this year they’ve decided to lob in the actual belt instead.

At the 1992 Royal Rumble, Ric Flair won the vacant World title thanks to some screwery involving Sid Justice, but this year there’s going to be a defending champion; it’s an awful lot of pressure on Roman Reigns in both kayfabe and real-life terms.

The odds. The stacking. The againstness. The adversity. The overcoming: all things which we’re being treated to in the story of Reigns’ upcoming title defence. And while that worked for a little bloke like Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania XXX, I don’t know why Reigns has ever been portrayed as the underdog when he’s chiselled from granite and one of the most powerful men in the game today.

Forcing him into the Rumble with his title on the line – you can thank a returning Vince McMahon for that, who at 70 years of age deserves a big hand for bumping around like he has in the last few weeks – is a compelling enough storyline to keep me interested, but what happens at the end of the night is where it really gets interesting.

The way I see it, the Rumble’s going to go one of two ways; one of them only slightly less offensive than the other.

If Reigns retains

If Roman Reigns is going to make history by defending his Royal Rumble title, then for the sake of credibility he needs not to be in the first five, or even ten entries. The match has been won from an early position before – Shawn Michaels won it from the number one spot in 1995, but wrestled for less than 40 minutes. Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble in 2004, clocking in a more impressive 61 minutes. But both men were a lot more capable workers than Reigns is now.

Not that any of that matters, because this is Superman we’re talking about. For Reigns not to be booed out of the building in winning his second consecutive Royal Rumble match – for all the marbles this time – the order of entry will be key; the later, the better. For the sake of believability – and of the WWE not ramming him down fans’ throats for the second year in a row – Reigns must enter later if he’s really going to win it all, despite it seeming like less of an achievement.

If Reigns loses

On the other hand, if it’s decided that someone else will be walking out of the Rumble as world champion, the likely scenario seems to be that Reigns – on the verge of victory and achieving the impossible – will be screwed by some Authority…screwery.

With the McMahon family seething, as well as Triple H seeking revenge for Reigns’ attack at TLC, we can expect even more of the deck-stacking as the Authority sends out stooge after stooge in an attempt to take out Reigns. Sheamus, Del Rio – even Bad News Barrett and Rusev who are sadly injured at last count – will be set to take out the champ as soon as possible.

Reigns, naturally, will overcome – but you can expect some last-minute tomfoolery to put down the champion if they decide not to go with Reigns as the champion heading out of the 2016 Rumble. Of course, that will be immediately remedied with a Wrestlemania main event against whoever does win that match – let’s not pretend that Fastlane is important enough to see a title change – so Reigns fans need not despair if he does lose the title at the Royal Rumble.

So if Reigns does give up the prize, who can we expect to take the belt?

Sadly, there are whispers that if you want the job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself – which is why it could be Triple H closing out the night as Royal Rumble winner 2016. Outside of that, the usual suspects would be Brock Lesnar, or…actually, there isn’t really anyone else is there?

Last Man Standing

Who would I like to see win? Dean Ambrose. Kevin Owens. Two hugely popular wrestlers, so popular in fact that WWE have already taken measures to ensure it won’t be either of them – by booking them opposite each other in a Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental Title. So bizarre is this booking, in fact, that it’s the champion Ambrose who issued the challenge rather than the prizefighter Owens.

So with those two outside hopes swiftly taken care of, it’s going to be a matter of how badly WWE wants to get Roman Reigns, supreme champion, over at the Rumble. It’s strange that they can’t even wait for that Mania moment to ensure that Reigns gets the glory – or at least enough of the rub to get some sympathy via villainous interference – but I suppose we’ll see what they have in store for us.

Reasons to watch the Rumble

Despite the lack of intrigue this year surrounding the main event, there’s always a reason to tune into the Royal Rumble match – the surprise returns and debuts. And with the various members of Bullet Club all but confirmed to make their WWE debuts over the next few weeks, it’s going to be well worth tuning in to see which of the talented performers steps out onto the stage in Orlando, Florida, this Sunday night.

 

Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector – cute and cuddly mobile fun

This week I’ve been looking for a new gaming adventure for my mobile phone – AdVenture Capitalist only gets you so far, and the Christmas game was pretty disappointing – when gradually all my social feeds were taken over by pictures of virtual cats. One download later and I’m the proud owner of some cute kitties courtesy of the Neko Atsume game.

neko atsume mobile game

Let’s get this out of the way first – IRL, I’m really not a cat person. I just don’t get the appeal. If I were to share my living space with a pet (and my fish, Dean Venture, doesn’t count, because he doesn’t take up sofa space) I’d at least want it to depend on me to some extent. Cats seem to just do what the hell they want, regardless of my presence.

But over the last few days my Instagram and Twitter feeds have been taken over by pictures of the cutest virtual pets; lazing on cushions, playing with balls of yarn or just plonked in boxes and buckets – so adorable. These pictures were all shared by Neko Atsume players, and I decided I just had to have a go for myself.

neko atsume mobile game

How to play Neko Atsume

It’s quite easy to get involved, with just a quick download to your iPhone or Android device.  The tutorial then takes you through the simple process. The aim is to attract the cats to play and relax in your yard, which you can do by using silver and gold fish as currency to buy a range of treats – from posh cat food to luxury furniture and balls of yarn.

You’re then meant to check in with the game several times a day to see who pops up in your yard – at the moment there are 49 cats to ‘collect’, which you can do by taking pictures and adding them to your galleries and cat profile pages. These profiles also keep track of how many times each cat visits and which items they like to play on best.

neko atsume

When a cat leaves they’ll leave you a gift of either gold or silver fish which you can use to buy more treats. You can spend real money to obtain gold fish, but the good thing about this particular microtransaction system is that you’re in absolutely no danger of falling behind in the game if you choose not to. Many a free-to-play game gets this balance completely wrong, but being as this game is the very definition of ‘casual’ it’d be pretty hard to get wrong.

It’s that gentleness which is my very favourite thing about it; Neko Atsume is hardly even a game, more an interactive experience with virtual pets that are overloaded with kawaii cuteness. It’s so soothing too – always a sight for sore eyes and good for a few relaxing minutes.

If you’re pining for the days where Tamagotchi ruled the playground (and the teachers’ desk drawers), I’d definitely recommend checking this out.