Inside Pitch 50

Editorial by Mike Siggins

You didn't really think I could keep quiet, did you?

"How slight and insignificant is the thing which casts down a mind greedy for praise." Horace, Epistles

It has been an interesting year. Christmas 1997 was frankly awful, I sold out my control in Sumo soon after which was surprisingly traumatic, my dad passed away at the end of January and for some weeks afterwards I was in dire straits. This was not helped by the fact that out of the 500-odd readers of Sumo, I got just eighteen thank you letters, which if nothing else confirms that I am probably old-fashioned in maintaining and half expecting this common courtesy. But things slowly picked up, after a fashion, and having lost most of my work clients through looking after my dad (this was a calculated gamble), I decided to take a half-time break in life - assuming, rather rashly, that I will reach the allotted 70 years! The plan was to take the Summer off, have a genuine rest for six months, see some sights in the UK sunshine, clear some backlog, and do some of that travelling I've been promising myself for years and somehow not managing. It started well in April and May with a lovely trip to York, a few wonderful days in Southwold, Suffolk and a great train trip around France, Italy and Germany with Ken Tidwell. I then got a German high technology Summer cough that stayed with me for three months and as it happened we didn't get a Summer (June and July passed without the sun appearing once) so by the end of a disastrous August (see below) I was ready to get the hell out of England. I spent much of the next ten weeks abroad - the States (Seattle, Denver, San Francisco), Europe, Paris and Essen - and came back considerably more attuned to life.

Back when I read Economics we learned 'dissaving' as a term (the act of spending savings to maintain an earlier standard of living). Like many snippets of knowledge acquired back then, I considered it as completely irrelevant to my future life. But just like matrices, and mental arithmetic, and learning to laugh at myself, it has been a useful tool for me. I have now been self-employed for three years, and for all my bold boasts about downshifting I think it has probably taken most of that period to slow down from my previous salaried spending habits. Way back in March some kindly soul said to me that you have to regard money as an energy reserve - put it away when you can, spend it when you need to regroup. And that is what I have been doing. The old phrase about investing in yourself may be hackneyed in the extreme, but it really did work. I left England in September uncharacteristically fed up with people, life and most of my interests and came back pretty much 'cured', with my mind considerably broadened. Goodness knows what would have happened if I'd gone to India.

"We find little in a book but what we put there. But in great books, the mind finds room to put many things" Joubert

The nicest thing about a true break is that once you get through the considerable 'work ethic guilt hurdle', by working out that it is not a crime to be taking it easy for a while, you can quite easily sit down and read all afternoon, or indeed all night, if you so desire. So I have cleared vast chunks of my reading backlog this year (I have even broken the mythical '100 books to go' barrier that has been haunting me for twelve tears). This is A Good Thing as I had all but forgotten the pleasures of reading a good novel. And since I have resigned myself to the fact that I cannot stop buying books, I now feel marginally less guilty about those that are piled high around me. The truth is that you either stop going into bookshops (not a realistic option) or live with the fact that there is always something, somewhere that must be bought - recent discoveries include the Alix bande dessinee series, Moss Gardening (!), Applied Chaos Theory, the wonderful Dorling Kindersley illustrated children's novels and Bread, Don Troiani's Soldiers in America, three books on Japanese Gardening, two on 1920's corporate logos, Peter Connolly's amazing Ancient City, Jocelyn Becker's Bay Tripper, the new Enki Bilal, the Aardman animation book (good enough to prompt another hobby), a reprint of Links' seminal Canaletto, and the monumental Flora Britannica which I could quite happily read for days. And of course there is In Praise of the Potato (I've loved them all my life; NOW they're trendy!). And that lot is just the last six months. The other highlights? Read on.

I have worked my way through most of Peter Ackroyd's novels which I liked a lot. They don't go anywhere very quickly, but the historical feel and language is excellent, they are often set in London - which sets me off on fascinating walks round obscure back streets (I am a happy man if I find an interesting new street in Paris or London! Simple pleasures...) - and the storylines are well handled. Best of all was The House of Doctor Dee, but I also greatly enjoyed Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and the very different First Light. Chatterton and English Music await my attentions. A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower was a good read, but perhaps because it was set in the Seventies felt exactly that. But my favourite book of the year, largely because he is my favourite author, was William Boyd's Armadillo, a low key but gripping tale of a loss adjuster who falls in love with a top model and gets in rather deeper than he intends. I don't know why Mr Boyd isn't more well known, and whether he (or his agent) needed to resort to the Nat Tate stunt is in some doubt, but he still rings my bell. I have also drifted slowly back to some selective science fiction reading. Permutation City by Greg Egan was probably the best so far, concerning a entirely logical, but ultimately baffling projection for the global computer network. There are more ideas in the first fifty pages than many offer in an entire book, it makes you think, and up till the very end it is an easy read. I can't pigeonhole this one as I am so out of touch with the genre, but I'd hazard a guess at post-modernist cyberpunk. All clear then? Next up is Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep, recommended by Ken Tidwell, which is fighting for reading time with Gore Vidal's Creation, Lawrence Norfolk's The Pope's Rhinoceros and Ian Banks' A Song of Stone (but I am a little worried about this one - no good reviews so far from my reliable scouts). How do I decide which to read? Like The Dice Man, I have taken to rolling dice.

The great new development is that we now have a Borders in London. I had spent much of the American trip jealously ogling various branches of this wonderful chain and when I got home, there was one in Oxford Street. Bliss. Why is it a good book shop? I don't rightly know. The vast range of American magazines helps, as does the layout, and the superb snack bar, and the fact that you can sit in a comfy high back old leather chair and read for hours if you wish. But it is really a shop for browsing, as many others have better stock, but if that is the mood you find yourself in then Borders is unbeatable. Except when you get the credit card bill. I recently let slip that I have never (minority of one?) been to Amazon.com on the web, for the simple reason that I am scared of so doing. The chance to list all the cheap books on [insert any one of fifty subjects here] and then buy them online, with no tax or duty payable would, I am quite convinced, see me in debtor's prison before the year is out. Only the postage would be a disincentive, and the addicted buyer's mind has ways of camouflaging even that. Add this to the amazing Sussex Stationers chain that I am forced to endure whenever I visit Mr Clifford in Bexhill (they sell just about all recent books at serious discounts - 40% to 60%) and we have all the signs of a man going slowly broke, but being able to cleverly cocoon himself in a mountain of yellowing paper (sounds like an X Files plot).

What I did on My Holidays

I have no idea how long this document is meant to be - I have vague notions of laying it out, printing it off and mailing it myself, so there are limits - but I could easily spend several pages telling you about my travels. I won't because I am told that is the most boring form of writing (and thus the hardest to pull off well), but I will tell you that this year I have been bored in Paris for the first time in a dozen visits (a day in Disneyland quickly cured that); I saw the Milky Way clearly for the first time and was shocked into saying "Wow" for about twenty minutes; I was delighted to find hefe weizen beer has invaded American micro breweries; I was the luckiest man alive when Stuart Moulder took me around Microsoft Games HQ (kid in a sweetshop time) and then whale watching - he laid on not one, but several pods of Orcas (I could have died happy that day); I have backpacked (thrice) for the first time in my effete life and I enjoyed it; I have been to a disused Underground station (shades of Thunderbirds!) that I didn't know you could get to; the Canaletto exhibition at The National Gallery was inspired; I have been to the British Museum for the first time since Tutankhamun (when was that? 1973?) and found it an incredible place where I will spend a lot of time in future; I saw a piece of theatre - The Woman in Black - that I enjoyed (not a common occurrence); I have been back to the Bay Area and it is still my second favourite place on this planet (to visit, I can't afford to live there...); and I have enjoyed Essen like I have never enjoyed it before.

We are all doomed. Slowly but surely we are falling prey to an insidious disease and nowhere is it more marked than in West Coast USA. The problem is coffee - latte, espresso, quadruple milky with extra cinnamon, whatever - and the fact that it seems to drive half the country to extremes of addiction. One American I stayed with walked around like a zombie in the mornings until he had secured his shot of caffeine. As you may know I am an oddity. An Englishman who dislikes both tea and coffee, and apart from chocolate, I am pretty much caffeine free - not sure what this means, but it gives me a slight ego boost. But even I was taken back by the spread of the contagion. When I returned home, London was going the same way. Large parts of Soho and Bloomsbury are already lost to the invasion, spearheaded by the elite Starbucks stormtroopers. It is time to fight back.

It was quite scary to realise I have been on the Internet for almost three years. Well, not for the entire time. You know what I mean. This hit home when my latest phone bill, following a particularly heavy quarter of business and pleasurable use, weighed in at £250 - even with 20% discount on the modem line. Now if I told you that pre-Email and surfing it was closer to £80 you may see the scale of the problem. Roll on free local calls... hoho. The odd thing is that I mention this frightening figure to many people who instantly offer to swap bills, which says something about it being Good to Talk. Anyway, the point is that while almost everyone I know is now on Email and it has long since become an essential (but occasionally time consuming) tool, the Web has finally developed sufficiently to be widely interesting, and even useful for international and local information (it must be noted that we still lag well behind the States in the latter respect). I have done a fair bit of productive research on it for games and there are some amazing sites for my weirder interests - I have successfully found useful pages on Alphonse Mucha, Middle Earth, Bryce 3D, Thunderbirds, UFO, Airfix OO/HO plastic figures, and even a page or two on Tintin. And just about any event for which one needs details or joining instructions has a web site these days. It is getting there.

Games

I won't cover too much about games, but I am allowed to let off a little steam as personal waffle of this nature is rightly not condoned in G3 land (and probably Counter land as well, by the look of that mean old editor they've employed). It has been a great year for boardgames. In the wine trade they would declare a vintage and I would have no argument with that. We haven't had any great games, but we have had in excess of fifteen bloody good ones. At this point I would ideally list my ten nominations for the '98 Sumos, but so many good games appeared at Essen that here I sit, on December 5th, with three games that might well win an award unplayed. Lawks! Siggins is slipping! So you'll have to wait, or buy the January issue of G3 if you can bring yourself to care about what titles Siggins fancied in '98.

It may sound rather over-emotional but I would have been happy with no other good games in 1998 apart from Keydom. It not only gives me great pleasure to have someone produce a game, virtually single handed, to this excellent standard but to see it sell out as well as attract definite interest from [censored!] is just icing on the cake. It means there is the scope for just about anyone to design and publish games, and if they are good enough, to bring them to the attention of the major companies (if that is what is desired). Indeed it was so successful that there were recently inevitable, and misplaced, accusations of hype! The success is exactly what I had in mind all those years ago when I started the gamekit coverage in Sumo and this is, even though it is just one game, confirmation that I was somewhere on the right lines. It also means, whatever the criticism, I will continue to cover "these ugly, unworkable games that we have to cut out ourselves" (not my words, needless to say). I think some people should consider themselves lucky that they have professional boardgames to compare against DTP gamekits - sadly, I can see a time when there may be nothing else to play with (as they are already finding in the wargame field). Congratulations to Richard Breese, and my thanks to him for the enthusiasm boost!

It has not however been a great year for computer games (Alan How may form an orderly line to dispute this statement). I sat down last Christmas and reckoned on about 20 potentially great games for 1998. How was I going to afford them all? But aside from the atmospheric (and pleasingly non-linear) Blade Runner, a belated foray with Magic The Gathering, and the slightly over-manic Seven Kingdoms, I still find myself playing Age of Empires and Close Combat 2 as we approach their anniversary. Okay, so I am eyeing up Caesar III, Knights & Merchants and Fallout II, I have just bought Railroad Tycoon II and Christmas will doubtless see me playing AoE: Rise of Rome, but generally I have been underwhelmed. Add to that the fact that I can't even get Grand Prix 2 or Links LS to run on my machine - technical redundancy is something we don't get in boardgames! Elsewhere East Front was okay but sloooow, Operational Art of War was good but like, seventies man, and Star Wars Supremacy was the biggest disappointment since Outpost. Both Grand Prix Legends and Commandos could have been great, but the demos were just way too difficult (always a bad sign) and put me off two otherwise dead-cert purchases. Balancing this on the PlayStation we have had a great crop: the near-perfect Gran Turismo which ate hundreds of hours; Colin McRae; Tekken 3; TOCA 2; and the deeply wonderful (and pleasingly subtle) ISS Pro 98, all of which are easily worth the asking prices (and I never thought I'd say that while sober). Perhaps 1999 will be the big one? With Age of Empires II, Close Combat 3, Theocracy, Black & White, Sim City 3000, Napoleon 1813, Road to Moscow, Birth of the Federation, Alpha Centauri and a boatload of other tempting titles (including Sierra's Middle Earth Online ... ahem), we may just be looking at slippage.

"Those see nothing but faults that seek for nothing else". Fuller

I am pretty laid back these days. I can avoid getting worked up about the tragic decline of the bus queue, the depressing dive in PC hardware prices (yes, I upgraded too early again), or even being charged 2.80 for a bottle of Molson in a London pub recently (and it wasn't even a trendy one). But I am still not happy about historical re-enactors. You know, the people who dress up as Old Guard Grenadiers or 95th Rifles or camp followers and prance around at the sort of shows I like to go along to. They make me cringe. I just wish I knew why though as I do have double standards on this one. The September issue of the always fascinating Smithsonian magazine has a feature on a new development in baseball - several leagues formed by historical buffs who play the game to 1880's rules and dress up in the appropriate clothing. This strikes me as completely acceptable, even a rather cool thing to do. So any ideas why I am so down on the Napoleonic wallies?

Gadgets

With overwhelming inevitability - rather like leather trousers always being a poor style choice - I have a new toy. We big boys need a new one every year; keeps us happy you know. Last year I bought myself a PlayStation, this year a Palm Pilot. I nearly typed organiser there, but it is much more than that. It is small and light enough to carry everywhere, logs my contacts and diary, caters for my obsessive To Do lists (364 items at the last count!) and is a basic word processor as well. There are also some reasonable games. The best aspect is that true backup to the PC is a doddle, which is exactly what backup needs to be. And you can even 'beam' small packets of information to other users (though it would be nice to find one to whom I could do this!). As you can tell, I love it. I even bought a keyboard and spreadsheet for it which have, for most practical uses, saved me the cost of upgrading my ageing notebook PC. At present the Palm III costs just a little too much (early adopter syndrome again) but they will come down and in time we will have little colour screen models that beam more bandwidth and have more ram and speed and let us play decent multi-player games.... Nurse, the screens.

Grub and Booze

Three culinary highlights stand out above all others from the last year: dinner at Millennium in San Francisco, a vegetarian restaurant of the very highest quality (thanks Jos); Sunday brunch at the Rosario Resort in the San Juan islands which precluded the need for further food that day (thanks Stuart & Nancy); and dinner at The Swan in Southwold (thanks me) which made even their fantastic lunches pale in comparison - the vanilla creme brule was stunning. But the most visited restaurant, on over twenty occasions without boredom or even minor complaint, was Wagamama (Bloomsbury or Soho, take your pick) who serve some of the very best Japanese noodle/rice based food, at amazingly good prices. I find it hard to explain how good this place is - and the long queues are the proof.

The final mention for this section goes to the improbably named Bonny Doon vineyard near Santa Cruz, California (it should be noted here that the proprietor is 'eccentric' - ie completely mad, but brilliant with it). I went along with Ken Tidwell for a wine tasting and was frankly amazed. Only once before have I been to a tasting where every wine was outstanding (and no less a person than Jancis Robinson was present at that one!) but this visit was characterized by Ken and I looking at each other after each glass and often being lost for words. If you can get there, do. I struggled back with two bottles of the nectar they call Vin de Glaciére, a sublime Muscat which is sadly not available over here, but a decent selection of their wines are available at Oddbins Fine Wine departments. You will not go far wrong with the Il Fiasco red or the Ca' Del Solo range of pseudo-Frenchies, but I am going to have to plead with Ken to bring me fresh supplies when he is next over. I think the Malvasia Bianca and Cigar Volante will be at the top of the list.

TV

I really like Ally McBeal. There, said it. Throw stones, hurl abuse, laugh heartily at my girly tastes. I don't care. It is an excellent programme and I was most disappointed when the series ended. The odd thing is three of my closest male friends (no names) also like it, whereas I haven't yet met a woman in the same group who does. What does this say? Dunno. Because it is not that one fancies Ally, nor the improbably short skirts, not even those other women - Barbie, Whipper and the flatmate are all deeply unappealing people. So it must be the witty scripts, the mad cases and lawyers, the quite superb staging and evolving characterization. It is funny, touching, it is always good value and occasionally it attains brilliance for an entire hour - this happened at least four times, including the infamous Dancing Baby episode. But most of all it is because Ally either has no masks, or they are dysfunctional - saying what she really thinks most of the time. And she is just, well, nice. And has a great smile. The series tells us much about life but no more than in the concept of unisex toilets. Brought to Britain, there would be a steady stream of ambulances carting away embarrassed workers filled to bursting who just couldn't possibly. You know.

Am I missing something in South Park? People I know, even people I respect, sing its praises but sod me if I can see anything worth watching. It isn't as funny as Seinfeld (let alone the marvellous Larry Sanders), it isn't as pithy as The Simpsons, and there is more drama in Hornblower. So it is hard to believe it is as popular as it is, but then Depeche Mode are still recording and Noel's House Party is still pulling in millions of viewers, so perhaps it hardly warrants a mention in the incredulity charts. While Ally McBeal, Under the Moon, Changing Rooms and the still very watchable NYPD Blue ruled the roost for much of 1998, a newcomer put in a good claim for best of the year. It is difficult to warm to any character in Vanity Fair, though I recall that was precisely Thackeray's intention, but that doesn't mean it isn't essential viewing, a perfect period piece and that the anti-heroine Becky Sharp is, without doubt, played by the most fitting, gorgeous and talented actress I have seen in years. I didn't much care for the music though.

"Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils" Berlioz

You should skip this bit if you are at all squeamish. My dad, like my mum eleven years ago, died of cancer. In both cases it was very quick, unexpected and their first major illness of any sort. In both cases the tumour in question was designated as 'rare' by the doctors. While my mum's illness (kidney) could have been picked up early, it was misdiagnosed, and I have lived with the massive transferred guilt and distrust of doctors ever since. My dad's (the most deadly strain of brain tumour) was simply not detectable until the symptoms saw him rushed to hospital. Add this to the fact that a reasonably close friend died at school, my first boss (and friend) died at 43 and my second cousin (my age) is now fighting for her life, all thanks to The Big C, and you can perhaps see why I am more than normally concerned about the subject. But that is what I have to live with and while I have every worry about the obvious extrapolation of these seemingly unfair fates, I suspect I am more likely to go from a heart problem!

What is interesting to note is that when we say someone is a brain surgeon we equate that to the best of the best. I am in no way being derogatory but what was remarkable about each and every one of the excellent staff at the National Hospital for Neurology was that they can't answer any questions as to why or how these things happen. They don't know where most brain tumours come from, and seem to know surprisingly little about the brain itself. All they and I know is that when it does go wrong, they do what they can, but the effect is often indescribably tragic for patient, friends and family. What really puzzles me is that in both my parents' cases I have not been asked for information by the health authorities - this is doubly surprising as my dad was taking part in long term research into memory loss. It is perhaps an odd thing to say, but if the tumours truly were rare (and I have confirmed this by looking it up) then why is someone not asking me pertinent research questions to try and stop this horror affecting others?

"Whoever is able to write a book and does not, it is as if he has lost a child". Nachman of Bratslav

As many of you know, I was going to write a book this Summer. Not a novel, as unlike many I don't think I have one inside me, but an overview of the European Game market. Why? Er, nebulous stuff ahead! I have spent much of my life not excelling at anything. I can do a number of things pretty well, but nothing much at the highest levels. The book was a shot at trying to crystallise what experience I have built up over the last ten years. It was also for that most vain reason; the desire to leave something tangible behind - to make a mark, if you like. But more than anything, it was a challenge to myself to see if I had the talent, willpower and discipline to do it. Just as many people want to play soccer for Liverpool, I have always wanted to write a book - this was probably my one chance and the timing seemed right. What I can now tell you is that I very nearly went barmy in the process.

"No task is a long one but the task on which one dare not start. It becomes a nightmare". Baudelaire.
"It is as easy to dream a book as it is hard to write one". Balzac

August was the month I set aside to finish off the volume in question, so it would be ready for Essen and Christmas. The project was well underway, and no longer than a typical Sumo, but as Reiner Knizia explained at Mindsports a book is a very different prospect to a magazine - as I now know only too well. Each day I sat down and tried to make progress, and each day I got more and more stressed. I wasn't blocked, it may just have been the scale of the project and self imposed deadlines. But there were wider issues. Partly the book, partly the state of my life and delayed reaction (predicted, but still unexpected) to the horrors of the previous winter which was largely spent in cancer wards (where there is indeed often hope, but an awful lot of desperation too). Add to that a number of reliable fixtures in my life had disappeared - my dad, Sumo, Just Games had closed, Mike Clifford moved way South of even South London, other friends were on holiday, the house was empty in every sense - which all left me more than a little adrift. But mainly it was the problem that writing is a solitary existence, so for the first time in my life I felt a profound sense of loss and incredibly lonely. It is tough to say that in print these days, as it is usually linked with the adjective 'sad', but let us just say it was a none too pleasant experience. Fortunately I spotted the problem, did what I needed to do, called in friends (thanks to all) and old stoic Sig finally conceded that he needed help and advice. And a proper holiday.

"The lazy are always wanting to do something". Vauvenargues.

My problem has always been that I promise to do things, and then try so very hard to deliver. But life has been getting in the way recently and while I was trying to find reasons not to fail, and pressurizing myself, the reality was that I failed spectacularly. So while I should ideally have learned to drive, written a book, published four games and completed countless other ambitious targets in 1998, I in fact did none of them and yet another year has slipped by. Add to that the growing concern about being an active critic of games when I am acutely conscious of not having proved I am able to design them, and it all got a little too much. I can therefore understand why many of you are getting fed up with me saying my games will be out next year, or are waiting for the delayed book, or are still giving me lifts all over the place. The dawning of realisation was simply that taking into account the rollercoaster that was 1992-1998, it was not at all surprising that I have completed so little. But I have stopped beating myself up over it and that I have achieved pretty much what I could be expected to under the circumstances. Perhaps even a little more. Instead I opted for the break and to get the batteries recharged to see if I could attack again from a position of strength. That watershed has been a great help, I am more focused, and committed to producing something as soon as I am ready to. So now you know.

"Nothing is worth more than this day". Goethe

So what of the long term future? Goodness knows, I have been living a day at a time for the last two years and that seems to keep me going well enough, but it is not an ideal way of formulating a strategic view. This is compounded as a 37 year old man who is mentally about 25, albeit with a bit of extra wisdom thrown in. All I have worked out is that there is much to be said for the notion of working at what you enjoy, I know I want very much to work with computers because they are still exciting after almost twenty years, and preferably to make something - though the latter is ably covered by hobbies. And it all has to be 100% ethical (which is bloody hard to do). Whatever transpires, at present I get up and I have way too many enjoyable things to do, and would like to do all of them. The main problems are thus time and prioritization rather than enthusiasm for life. This is, trust me, considerably better than at any stage in the last five years. Onwards and upwards as they say and I may well have finally settled on books, and games of all types, as my long sought passions in life.

"The self-educated are marked by stubborn peculiarities" D'Israeli

I think 1999 will see some more travel, because it offered an entirely positive outcome in all respects except financial, so Japan, Venice, Vienna and Prague look likely to be the targets for next Spring and Summer. Those done, my one unfulfilled travel ambition will be to go to the South Sea islands; but I don't fancy the jabs! I want to stay self-employed if I can, that lifestyle suits me well, and I want to downshift even more. I would like to do something active on the environment, but I am a coward, so I'll just send money to those that can. I would lay good money on a house, county or even country move (I'm looking for a loft apartment or mews house, and a mystery benefactor with a spare 200k), but rather less on my learning to drive, and I really must make some serious efforts to pick up some more clients, get my skills up to date, resurrect my rudimentary programming talents, and perhaps even take some serious courses or get back into education. At present I am booking a vegetarian cookery course, and in January I start three more, the least embarrassing of which is an in depth look at the Dutch Masters of the Golden Age. That I am really looking forward to. I have the sense that many of the tools I need are in place, and that confidence is returning (I always have to remind myself that Sumo and much else was produced while I was way below 100% - though John Neeve's theory, probably accurate, is that Sumo was far better for my prolonged periods of stress. Discuss!) Anyway, the world is my lobster, and I am almost ready for it again.

"In order to compose, all you need to do is remember a tune that no one else has thought of" Schumann

I have purchased very few CDs. This is partly because I now have more than I will ever need but mainly because I rarely find something worth getting. Bucking the trend were Nanci Griffith's Other Voices Too, Culture Club's Greatest Moments, anything I could find by Charles Trenet, Aretha Franklin's Greatest (which is, oddly, rather too much of a good thing, but Say a Little Prayer is still the best), a selection of excellent compilation albums (mainly from eclectic Best ... Ever series) and, my '98 fad thang, traditional Japanese drumming. Yes, okay, Siggins finally goes zen. Many years ago I saw a documentary about the Kodo Drummers of Japan and, beyond storing the tape away, that was that until I got tickets for their London show this August. I went, I was amazed, moved and even inspired, so I went back the very next evening. The usual Siggins frenzy hit, and at one point I even thought about taking up drumming myself (but quickly remembered my musical ineptitude and bought some CDs instead - good at that, me). For those that don't know what I'm on about, it is basically two to thirty super fit blokes on stage bashing seriously large and loud drums in perfect rhythm for hours. It is quite brilliant, it is so me, and I am addicted. So you can imagine my excitement when Ken Tidwell asked me if I might want to go along and see the San Jose Taiko (the slightly Americanised, but no less energetic California edition of Kodo) at Stanford University. Would I? Cor, yes. A memorable evening.

Fillums

Lots of movies, but not enough tempting output from Hollywood or elsewhere to average more than one visit per month. Ideally I'd like to see twice that number, but too often I arrived in Leicester Square only to find nothing that appealed. That may explain how I got to see City of Angels which was pretty weak. Not at all weak were the excellent LA Confidential and Woody Allen's brilliant Deconstructing Harry. Middling were Dark City, Mulan (I found it tough to relate to the Chinese as the good guys), Boogie Nights, Perfect Murder (seen three times thanks to long-haul airline schedules...) and X Files (why did I bother? It was a normal episode!). Very good in (minor) parts but generally laughably poor were Lost in Space and Godzilla. I can't comment on the two biggest films of the year, Titanic and Private Ryan, as I made a conscious choice to see neither. I am told by many that I have missed out on two fantastic movies, and in time I may watch parts of them, but I didn't want to see two essentially downbeat films as entertainment and, in the case of the graphic Private Ryan, it seems I made exactly the right decision. After all, I still have the mental scars from The Deerhunter.

The most discussed film of the year, and in some ways the most surprising, was The Truman Show. This was very good indeed, but clearly not the masterpiece most critics frothed over (and I do wonder why this was). What caused the surprise was that it was an intelligent, well crafted, original movie in a year that saw me sit through both Armageddon and Deep Impact. Only in comparison with these predictable and lacklustre productions, which seem to sum up Hollywood quite nicely, is Truman a great movie, but it is still one you should see - Peter Weir has not failed me yet, but Jim Carrey didn't quite carry the role - and Truman really makes you think on the train home! But it could have been so much better. I'm looking forward to seeing Prince of Egypt, Enemy of the State, What Dreams May Come, the new Star Trek, Zorro and Rush Hour in coming weeks and we await 1999's output with interest but with no difficulty predicting the continuing mediocrity of British filmmakers and the odd inability of the French to send us any more decent movies.

"Constant popping off of proverbs will make thee a byword thyself". Fuller

I was slightly conscious that this lot would read like one of those gruesome mass mailing 'Letter to all our Friends' that seem to come with Christmas cards these days. I then realised that I had been foisting exactly that onto you quarterly for best part of fifteen years (don't forget the first 20 odd issues of Inside Pitch in Sensation) but a number of people seem to enjoy the pain, so here we are. At one point I was so fired up over the idea that I even thought about running a postal game herein. But I had a lie down, and feel better now (and who plays to annual turnrounds anyway?). And make sure you designate just one person to send this rather self-indulgent copy of Inside Pitch to Pseud's Corner, because I concede it has gone more than a bit that way. Thanks to everyone who has bailed me out in whatever form in '98, have a good Christmas and 1999, and be well.

That was Inside Pitch 50*, written in December 1998, by Mike Siggins, PO Box 2062, Woodford Green, Essex IG9 5DL, England. msiggins@aol.com

* I have lost count, to be honest. I think the last Sensation sub-zine was issue 24, so 44 Sumos comes out at 68. But I seem to recall that not all Sumos had an Inside Pitch.... so 50 is a wild guess basically. Anyone care to add them up for me? Christmas Quiz: What was Inside Pitch called originally? Winner gets a copy of Edison & Co. Seriously.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell