As some of you know, I have been away to Florida for a couple of weeks and managed to hit a near-perfect spell of weather and also to see some superb sport. ESPN is better than ever and it is an exquisite pleasure to be able to turn the TV on and get some form of decent sport on demand, even if it is the curious and often tedious Arena football. Perhaps the Murdoch/Amstrad satellite TV moves will provide a similar channel for us next year. Both the NBA playoffs and Stanley cup finals were in full flow and it is rather odd watching Gretzky and co. skating around when it is 90 degrees outside. There were also some excellent NBA games but the Beeb seems to be getting these in quite quickly anyway for your delectation. The Pistons/Celtics double overtimer was a classic and only the unlucky Hawks provided better games when I was there. But when will we get hockey over here? Come along Cheerleader Productions, I am sure you could negotiate for some late night slots.
In addition to several games seen on TV, I managed to see four live baseball games, all minor league and all of a surprisingly high standard. Attendances seem to vary greatly. I saw a AA game in Orlando between the Twins and the Chattanooga Lookouts which drew 417. On the other hand, I saw two games at the class A St.Petersburg Cardinal's superb Al Lang stadium and each of those drew over 4,000 loud fans. On the first night there were over 5,000 but then star of that evening was the San Diego Chicken. That is one funny, and rich, guy. The other game was at the sumptuous Baseball City stadium which is used by the Royals in their Grapefruit league games. During the summer, it is the home of the class A Baseball City Royals and this was by far the best game I saw. The Royals started a young sinkerballer who bewildered both the Indian's farm club and his catcher, but managed to give up three homers en route to winning 9-8. The stadium is part of Boardwalk and Baseball, a newish theme park near Orlando that combines Coney Island style rides and attractions with six permanent, year round baseball fields. Games are played every day and suffice to say, everything for the baseball fan is available. Clothing, souvenirs, films, baseball cards, equipment, radar gun booths, batting cages, fielding machines, a Cooperstown exhibit, the lot. Yes, I enjoyed it. The big news on the local stations was the efforts being made to bring the White Sox to St.Pete due to the closure of Comiskey Park. We saw the new stadium being built and hopes are high that the Florida White Sox will play there next year. It would certainly be another reason to go back to Florida.
Travelogue Warning. Sadly, despite the fantastic attractions and the glorious weather, Florida now has a drawback. I have to report it is in the early stages of being Ibiza-ized. Sightings of Union Jack shorts were made on three occasions, the well known 'Sharon' was seen supping Dubonnet and a haunting, faint 'Here we go' was heard in Orlando airport. Mmm. I give it five years before it becomes unvisitable, unless the almighty dollar recovers. Good points: EPCOT and Sea World are worth the trip alone, Disneyworld and Kennedy Spaceport are very good but slightly disappointing, the beaches are extremely good as are the themeparks and rides. Overall, generally excellent but you must have a car and expect intense heat. Plus Points: Baseball on tap, great weather, nice people, cold beer, air conditioners, the coral reef display at Sea World, ESPN, a profusion of excellent books and magazines, massive shopping malls, cheap food and clothes, cleanliness, few dogs, classy tourist attractions, great club sandwiches, nice beaches and silly shorts rife. Jolly good overall. Minus Points: A passing tornado, not getting to see any Jai-Alai, my softball team winning without me and my forthcoming credit card statement. Anyway, a main conclusion of the holiday was something I first suspected last year. Basically, when I am at work and charging through the weeks I am far from relaxed. There must be constant stress present because when I get away and really relax I am a different person. I have good ideas, think clearly, read faster, leap tall buildings. But seriously, this is worrying. It means I am living below par for eleven months of the year. What to do? Drop out and live in the Scottish islands? We shall see.
As a contrast, by far the lowest point of the whole holiday was the news item bemoaning the dwindling numbers of Little League baseball players in Detroit due to the fact that they preferred to earn money as crack dealers. Modern times, I guess.
With two weeks in the States, using a little selective viewing and a TV Guide, one can catch quite a few interesting programs among the crap. Sports coverage aside, which is dealt with elsewhere, NBC seem to have the best of the batch. Aside from the usual standbyes like Cosby, Cheers and MASH, I managed to see the Hill Street spinoff, Hills Buntz, the Cosby Spinoff, Different World and, by mistake, the very last St.Elsewhere. All of these were rather good. In addition, I am now a convert to L.A. Law, but then I was slow to like Hill St. too and that is among my all time favourites. Best of the bunch by some way though was the opportunity to see a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It surprises me that, aside from the films, no follow up series has been made until now. The result is very interesting. The spirit, gentle humour and style of the original is captured superbly, the stories seem fresh and the special effects are up to the best modern standards. The ships themselves are marvelous, yet details like the transporter are faithful to the original, again contributing to the overall feel. The characters are of course different. No Kirk and Spock dialogues here, in fact we have a first officer who answers back. There is a woman doctor, a 'Counsellor' and an android who has some good lines. The mixture is a good one and I look forward to the series appearing over here. Videos are already available at interesting prices, ie £60. Oh, the split infinitive in the titles is still there and the only concession to the eighties is 'To boldly go where nobody has gone before'.
TV in the UK is overall very weak at the moment but as ever there are some gems that provide a few hours decent viewing. MASH, as ever, continues to please and it seems to have been at 9 o'clock on a Wednesday for as long as I can remember which is fine with me. I haven't yet commented on the new format Cheers. When Diane left, I was among those who thought it would never be the same, but I am pleased to say I was wrong. The recent programmes, despite some weak episodes, have been of a very high standard and if anything the situation allows even drier and funnier jokes than previously. My compliments to the scriptwriters. Also back in fine form is St.Elsewhere which just gets better and better. Some of the serious situations really hit home and yet the humour is first class. My plea last time for more baseball and NBA coverage has been answered and the excellent coverage complements the existing NCAA basketball very well. The latter is due to show the final between Kansas and Oklahoma this weekend, but unfortunately I already know the result - a necessary evil when you sneak a look at USA Today each morning. I have grown to like the college game a lot, it is different but subtly so to the professional game and the appeal of seeing stars of the future is very real. I got talking to a basketball nut in a sports shop in Clearwater who rated the US olympic squad as one of the best ever, under the able leadership of Danny Manning. I only hope we get some decent coverage of some of the more obscure sports in September, including some baseball, cycling, basketball and handball now that the athletics side has become rather boring. The nut, who talked with me for over an hour, went on to discuss the '92 Olympics where pro basketball players will be allowed and this lead to the interesting, though currently theoretical, discussion topic which revolved around whether the Soviet team would have any hope against a squad featuring Jordan, Magic, Aguirre, Barkley, Thomas, Bird, Worthy, McHale, Daugherty and Dominique. We agreed quickly that the Russians wouldn't have a earthly.
I was lucky enough to go and see Barry Humphries in London recently. I know he is despised by many but I love him, I found myself laughing more than I ever have before. The man is just so sharp, his humour is wickedly funny and even the vaguely tacky bits made me roar. On reflection, I still find him the funniest comedian. Brilliant, I have not enjoyed myself so much in ages.
It is very unusual for me to see four films in a month and enjoy only one of them. The situation is not helped by being spoonfed on the flight based movie schedules. So, I will try not to linger too long on reviewing Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Moonstruck which were seen courtesy of British Airways. The former stars Steve Martin, a performer I have never rated and is almost without humour. This one deserves to flop. Moonstruck is by no means a bad film, the acting is generally acceptable and the plot would make for a reasonable play, but overall so little happens that one wonders how anyone could consider it worthy of the budget and if the Oscar for best actress really means anything then Cher should not have won it.
The grotty film I saw voluntarily was Wall St. and having paid good money for two hours of a weak plot with some buzzwords thrown in, I was less than pleased. The film is basically a fairly naive moral tale dressed up nicely in the jargon and opulence that typifies the yuppie ethic. The filming is clever, the sets and details nicely observed but let's face it, just about everyone who cares now knows about insider trading and to graft on a weak storyline does not save it or make it meaningful. Even Michael Douglas, another seemingly undeserved Oscar winner, turns in a routine performance as the lead nasty. Wall St. relies upon stereotypes for its impact and sadly, judging by the audience on the night, it was being watched by stereotypes as well. I suppose I went to see Wall St. in the hope that it would be like the excellent plays Serious Money or Speculators, both of which expose the greed and cynicism that has made the city what it is today, but even as someone aware of the buzzwords it made little impact on me - the players are nasty but not originally so. Another one to save till it gets to TV though having spoken to some 'non-market' people they said they enjoyed it so it could be Siggins being picky again.
Not quite worthy of one of John Harrington's all night film sessions, but close, is The Princess Bride. This is one of those films like Short Circuit and Top Secret that appeal to both adults and children at the same time. Basically, it is a spoof of the many swashbuckling, fantasy epics and the one-liners are marvelous. Film of the month by virtue of the other rubbish, but deserving anyway.
Also redeeming the situation were two films seen on the IMAX format and a little film called Captain EO seen at EPCOT. I thought Circlevision was awesome but IMAX takes the biscuit. IMAX uses a screen that is about four times the area of a typical cinema screen and the effect is amazing. At Kennedy Space Centre we got shots of shuttle launches and fantastic views from space and at Boardwalk they show some fantastic shots of the Grand Canyon. The quality is superb and it is probably the closest thing to actually being there you will get. How long, if ever, before all cinemas are like this? Captain EO is typical Disney brilliance and having missed it by two weeks at Disneyland in '86 I was obviously keen to see it. The story is almost incidental, it is a space opera plot which is contrived to give Michael Jackson a chance to dance which is never really a strain on the eyes. But when you throw in special effects and ideas by George Lucas and the Disney team, 3D effects to make you gasp and excellent sound quality, while presenting it all in a custom theatre, then you have a winner. It is necessary to wear stereoscopic glasses but this is no problem - the images they allow are simply awesome. Rocks float inches in front of one's eyes, characters walk to frontstage and appear to be coming toward you and when the lasers start firing you duck and weave with the rest of the audience. The sad thing is that it only lasts about 15 minutes.
Films I will look out for in the coming months include Crocodile Dundee II, Beetle Juice, Woody Allen's September and Willow - the latter is a fantasy blockbuster from George Lucas and from the clips I saw it looks to have some superb effects. It even has real looking hobbits which can't be bad. There is a batch of baseball films coming as well, which is slightly surprising as the genre has never been very successful in the past. First off, just released in the States is Bull Durham which centres around a minor league team with some romance interest and has opened to rave reviews. To come are Eight Men Out, the story of the 1919 'Black Sox' and one I will be waiting for - a biography of fastballer supreme J.R.Richard called Strikeout. Richard's story has always struck me as particularly tragic, the reason I became aware of it was that this guy had one hell of a Statis Pro card on my Astros and he just disappeared after the 1980 set which I subsequently found out was due to a career ending stroke. Thomas Boswell's piece in Why Time begins... brought me up to date on his progress and while he is as healthy as can be expected, he never made it back to major league pitching.
Import pricing: the old chestnut. This month's C&T sees a page discussing the pricing of MB's Shogun with Derek Wilson (who remembers £2 S&Ts) on offence and Brian Walker leaping to defend its honour. My points follow: Brian's knowledgeable defence is that Shogun is worth £25-30 because of the quality game components. Viewed relative to your traditional cardboard boardgame this may be true but the problem as I see it is that most imported games are on the pricey side and Shogun is simply at the luxury end of an expensive market. Cripes, I wince at paying £20 to £30 for a game that could easily be a turkey but then again they can offer marvellous value. I just wish I could buy them at U.S. prices. In the States, Shogun retails for $30 and, for instance, Victory's Open Fire for $32 (£28 here). They are available cheaper through discount shops and this ignores trade bulk purchasing discounts. I admit ignorance in the area and I appreciate there are import charges and VAT to add but the products still seem dear - TM Games appear particularly naughty here. As someone who works on the money markets I have problems adjusting to the £1=$1 pricing theory with the pound currently buying $1.85 and having been over $1.75 since Christmas. Does no one buy Dollars forward? Would someone please explain just how the pricing works, especially since there is no VAT on books which seem to get interesting mark-ups as well? At times, there is very little incentive to buy locally, especially given the ease and speed of ordering from the States or Europe using the flexible friend. A fully worked costing exercise from some importers would be a delight to read though Brian Walker, a man whose views I value, says all in the garden is rosy and he, as an importer, should know. Comments please? Stop Press: Toys-R-Us have Shogun for £19.99. Good value!
Recent games purchased, mainly in the U.K. despite the above moans, include Schoko & Co, McMulti (Crude), Dallas (Cartel), Noble House, C.V., Wings, Hunt for Red October, North German Plain, Tigers are Burning, Lee vs Grant, Shogun, Central America, Stockmarket Specialist and Dinosaurs of the Lost World. All, some or none of these may be reviewed as and when time allows. Thanks for the response to the game sale which allowed at least some of the above purchases. The rest were bought while experiencing that strange guilty sensation.
Since I was a little tot I have wanted to see two things at Wembley; The Skol Six Day race and the Harlem Globetrotters. The former is, I believe, now defunct and I will have to go abroad to see one. The latter was accomplished a week or so ago and boy was I disappointed. The days of Curly and Meadowlark (anyone remember the cartoon series?) are long gone and in their place are a bunch of reasonably talented but fairly unfunny showmen. They had an off night on the shooting front too, going a grotty 0 for 4 on the half-way line shots and embarrassingly missing several dunks. The whole show, including pre-game theatricals and a break, lasted only two hours. It was made worse because most of the crowd were kids and I think they (and their parents) were hoping to see more for their £9 tickets and £3 programmes. Am I right in assuming that the players are failures in NBA/CBA terms or do they earn more missing baskets and telling jokes than they would in the majors? Give me Michael Jordan on TV anytime.
The Phillies remain in the basement, Schmidt is slumping and life and Gonzo baseball go on. My Titans are 12-11 and lie second in their division. My softball team is 1-3 and looking stable. If you haven't already, give some consideration to playing Simon Prior's Inside Trader - this is the closest you will get to risk (and commission) free share dealing. Good Stuff. On that subject, this issue is dedicated to 'Scooter', with thanks for making it worthwhile.
Be Seeing You. Mike Siggins, 129 Ardmore Lane, Buckhurst Hill, Essex IG9 5SB.
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