With the end of work today comes farewell to this job. It seems appropriate to share a few words of wisdom from the Doctor:

‘We all change, when you think about it, we’re all different people; all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear.’

Never forget where you’re coming from.

Just moments ago, England learned who they would be playing in the group stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It’s a winnable group but not one without danger.

  1. Belgium

Here’s a team full of known quantities, with several top Belgian stars playing for Premier League teams. Among their most experienced, talented players, you have Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard, with 81 caps and 21 goals for his country – a skilful playmaker who could terrorise many a defence. There is also Thibaut Courtois, also with Chelsea – a highly regarded goalkeeper with 54 caps. Jan Vertonghen has 95 caps and has been a mainstay for Tottenham, along with midfielder Mousa Dembélé, who has 73 caps.

Another skilful midfielder is Man City star Kevin De Bruyne, who has been in good form for his club. He’s got 55 caps for Belgium and 12 goals and could well be one to watch. He could well be joined by club teammate Vincent Kompany, a veteran centre back who provides City with a great deal of defensive focus and strength. Kompany has 72 caps, whilst another experienced defender – Tottenham man Toby Alderweireld – might well be the man who lines up alongside Kompany in the middle of that defence.

Up front Belgium can look to Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku for goals and he’s certainly proven pretty good at that over the past couple of years, however beyond Lukaku Belgium’s firepower is pretty limited. Lukaku has 28 goals from 62 caps, whilst Napoli striker Dries Mertens has 13 goals from 61 caps. However, with the experience and quality of players like Hazard and De Bruyne, England will have to concentrate and keep the ball, for Belgium will not lose possession easily.

2. Tunisia

The Tunisian national team is full of players who are frankly, complete mysteries. Some do play in European leagues, but there are also a number of players with little experience of the highest echelons of the game. The most experienced member of their squad is captain and ‘keeper Aymen Mathlouthi, with 69 caps at the time of writing. Their next most experienced player is striker Youssef Msakni, with 14 goals from 51 caps.

It would be a mistake to write them off, but with limited experience, they shouldn’t – shouldn’t – pose England too many problems

3. Panama

This team is even more of an unknown quantity. Many of their players are very experienced for their national side, with ‘keeper Jaime Penedo on 129 caps for his country, defender and captain Felipe Baloy on 99 caps and midfielder Armando Cooper on 96 caps, whilst forward Blas Pérez 115 caps. The issue for Panama is that the majority of their players play in comparatively inferior leagues, meaning they are once again a team that England should be beating.

Belgium will be by far England’s toughest test of the group stages and much will depend upon how the two teams handle the pressure – the England/Belgium clash will their final game of the group stage, very possibly determining who finishes top of the group. It may even decide who goes through.

Well, I’ve had about a week to sink my teeth into Mario’s latest adventure, so what do I think so far?

So far, so good. There are obvious comparisons to be made with Mario’s other 3D open-world adventures, some of which I have enjoyed and others, not enjoyed, but where does Odyssey stand in the hierarchy? It stands pretty tall.

As is by now fairly normal for Mario’s 3D outings, Odyssey introduces a gimmick, a means of helping the player, albeit a fairly novel and interesting one. In Super Mario 64 you didn’t really have any extra gimmicks, aside from new jumps and leaps. In Sunshine (urgh) you had the soaker, in Galaxy you had the power to throw gems to stun enemies, but in Odyssey you have the power to take over certain enemies and use them to help you out. This gives rise to a pretty wide range of abilities, all of which serve a purpose, existing to help you progress, rather than being included for the sake of it.

For example, it can be pretty fun to throw Cappy (your latest companion, who is quite literally a hat) and take over a Bullet Bill, but it soon becomes clear this is actually more than just fun – you’re going to need to in order to destroy certain walls and move on through your quest. At times you’ll take over Podoboos (the odd name for the fireballs that jump around in various Mario games) in order to traverse particularly fiery or hot lakes. You can take over Goombas (who are firm-footed even on icy terrain), Hammer Bros and all sorts of creatures, all with their own useful traits.

Graphically the game is gorgeous, reflecting the increased power of the Switch over its predecessors, offering big, detailed and varied worlds, ranging from deserts to a beach world, to New Donk City (which offers up an incredible nostalgia treat for the player), to a world devoted to lunch. The soundtrack is unobtrusive, letting you get on with the game.

As you can see, there are passages within the game that recreate the original Super Mario Bros – these sections are absolute gems and a clever touch.

My only, tiny complaint so far is that it’s pretty easy, though Mario games aren’t necessarily aimed at experienced gamers, but rather, are intended to be accessible for everyone. That being said, whilst I’m flying through the main quest, I am very far off finding all the power moons (this games key collectible), having recently learned that there are 52 in the beach world alone – I have found enough to move on to another world, but finding all of them will be a major quest in itself.

All in all, I am finding this game to be a cut above Mario’s previous open world adventures. It is full of secrets, so many in fact that it reminds me a little of Super Mario World, and I would quite happily put Odyssey up there with the best of Mario’s adventures. 9/10.

The 2017 F1 season has reached its conclusion, in rather tame fashion, with a reminder that Mercedes remain the team to beat. They took a comfortable 1-2 finish for only the fourth time in 2017 (a mark perhaps, of how the gap has closed), with the twist that Valtteri Bottas emerged the winner. He qualified on pole, led every lap and took the fastest lap too, thus earning the grand slam.

He had teammate Lewis Hamilton close behind for much of the race, though the nature of the track (especially the final sector) meant Hamilton was only rarely able to get to within a second when the DRS zones were in play – he had been hoping Bottas would make a mistake, but one of the defining characteristics of the Finn is his grace under pressure. Bottas proved to be unflappable.

Sebastian Vettel was some 20 seconds behind and very much adrift. He had gotten pretty clear of his own teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, to end up having a lonely race. Raikkonen had the Red Bull of Max Verstappen for company, but as with the Bottas/Hamilton battle, Verstappen wasn’t able to get close enough and would have to settle for fifth. It would have been sixth, but Daniel Ricciardo’s season ended with a hydraulics failure in his own Red Bull whilst running fourth, something that also allowed Raikkonen to overhaul him in the standings.

The only other spark in an other mundane race was an error by the Renault pit crew, who failed to secure Carlos Sainz’ front left tyre, leading to him having to retire. His teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, finished sixth, a result that proved enough to lift Renault to sixth in the constructor’s championship, representing several million pounds of extra prize money. Renault were therefore the chief winners of Sunday’s race.

Beyond that, there’s nothing to report. Abu Dhabi provides a picturesque venue but not great racing, especially when the key battles have already been decided. Hamilton said afterward that as a track it needs to change, something other drivers have previously suggested.

One other thing – this was the last race to feature truly open cockpits. Next year the halo system will be introduced, in order to provide an extra measure of head protection. How this will influence the designs of the cars remains to be seen, but Abu Dhabi represents – for now at least – the end of an era.

At some stage in the near future, I’ll be reviewing the entire season. I hope you enjoy!

angrymeerkat

So maybe this is unfair, but right now I really hate Ed Sheeran’s music. The radio station we have on at work is obsessed with him, to the point where I am starting to leave the radio off for long spells, out of disgust. I have nothing against Ed himself, or in fact his songs, except for the ridiculous over-saturation going on. I get it, he’s big right now, but there are other artists out there. Enough is enough already!

I’m not a fan of time-wasting customers – they come in, wander about aimlessly, decline offers of help and then mill about some more. Are you going to do anything or just take up our time needlessly?

There are some stupidly loud motorbikes that go up and down the road outside the shop. Is there really any need to deafen both yourselves and every passer-by? Is the noise of your exhaust inversely proportional to the size of your manhood? Because it seems like you’re compensating for something from where I’m sitting.

 

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Rule 1 – control your bloody kids! Earlier today a couple came in with their two young daughters. From the instant their kids entered the shop they decided the place was a playground. It’s not. It would have been nice if the parents could have actually done more than meekly tell their kids to stop, but they didn’t, so their kids didn’t. When dealing with expensive shower enclosures, ceramic products and brassware, this can be a recipe for disaster. How nothing was broken I will never know.

I mentioned in a recent post that my family and I had recently visited the Warner Bros Studio Tour – here, we took in all the magic from the Harry Potter films, which was quite the experience! What did we see? Well, we saw pretty much everything there was to see. Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, the tour offers an incredible and detailed insight to the process of making big movies. The level of work that goes into producing films like this is astounding.

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(how about a letter to Hogwarts?)

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(every wand was distinctive and every credited member of cast and crew received their own personalised wand)

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(there were thousands of bottles of various weird things and potions and each one had its own, unique, handwritten label)

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(we’re off to Hogwarts!)

What we saw was not merely a faithful reproduction of the sets and props – we saw the actual sets and props. It made the experience all the more special to know we were walking through and standing in the places where these movies were made.

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(the Knight Bus, circa The Prisoner of Azkaban)

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(one of the weird plant baby things)

We took hundreds of pictures, which I can’t go through here! Needless to say, it was a fantastic experience (by the way, butter beer is wonderful), and I don’t think we scratched the surface of what it was like.

So, that’s it. If you get the chance to go, go!

Timon

What’s coming up? Well, in a personal sense, there is some moving and shaking soon – I am about to enter my final week with my current employer, before moving on to new pastures. This is obviously quite a big deal, with short-term and long-term repercussions and not a step taken lightly, but after deliberating and discussing and considering, it was a leap that needed to be taken. I have nothing but admiration, respect and friendship for the guys I currently work with, but this new job offers the opportunity to make more money, which will in turn bring other, positive impacts. I had to base my decision on what would be best for my wife, daughter and myself, and so, soon, it will be time to move on from bathrooms.

I need to tell you all about my recent visit to the Harry Potter Experience. It was a birthday treat for both my stepdaughter and myself and it was thoroughly enjoyable. There’s a lot of photos, so I need to spend a bit of time on that one. It would take a while to thoroughly describe the experience!

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Speaking of birthdays, my stepson and his girlfriend stunned me by getting me Super Mario Odyssey for the Switch. That’s in addition to a big Star Wars Cross Sections book and a Star Trek Borg ship model. I think they spent waaaaaaaaay more money on me than they should have, but guys, if you’re reading this, I am very grateful! At some point I need to offer up some early thoughts on Odyssey, and also on the Breath of the Wild download content, which was a birthday/Christmas present from my wife (along with my favourite tipple, Old Speckled Hen!).

The homemade birthdays from my little girl and my granddaughter were delightful! My daughter drew me a Star Wars-themed card and my granddaughter drew me a picture of Scrooge McDuck! It’s like they know me too well…

 

If one word could sum up the past couple of days at work, it would be ‘tedious’. On Wednesday I was on my own (a consequence of rotas and conferences), but I was easily able to manage, whilst today hasn’t been that different. I keep swinging around to the idea of doing some writing, but it’s hard to be creative when there’s always the possibility of someone walking in to the store who wants help – goodbye to momentum.

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We’ve reached the end of the 2017 F1 season, a season that gave us a resurgent Ferrari and an inkling of how competitive Red Bull can be given the right conditions. It’s seen the breakdown of McLaren’s relationship with Honda and post-Europe implosion from Ferrari. It’s seen Lewis Hamilton break the record for all-time pole positions and seem Hamilton win his fourth world championship – whilst Mercedes have made it four from four in the turbo era.

The top five places in the constructor’s championship are sorted  – there is a faint mathematical chance for Toro Rosso – currently 6th – to catch Williams, but they’d realistically need a one-two finish with Williams picking up hardly any points, so in reality, they’ll be aiming to finish ahead of Renault and Haas. The gap between these teams is just six points, so, with big financial rewards on offer, there’s some serious motivation to do well. Further up the field, pride is the main motive – Sebastian Vettel won last time out in Brazil and will want to finish the season strongly, as will Ferrari.

In terms of the venue, Abu Dhabi has come under criticism for a lacklustre track, though the atmosphere surrounding the venue itself is usually quite positive. Overtaking will come about from the DRS zones, as much of the circuit – especially turns 12-21 – will not offer the opportunity. Without anything serious at stake for the top teams, they might well let their hair down and the drivers will be able to race each other without the pressure of a title fight. This might produce a good race.