From t’archives – Woktastic review.

Woktastic is coming back soon, in a new location that isn’t connected to Paradise Forum. Many years ago, I wrote a restaurant review and haven’t written one since. After reading this, you’ll probably find out why. Mind the cobwebs, it’s a remastered piece of filler, right out of 2010 –

Food. Food is good. I don’t know much about food, nor do I know much about eating out in Birmingham (no, keep reading, I have a point that I will stumble into shortly). What I do know is that there’s a really great Japanese restaurant called Woktastic in our fair city. It’s just outside the Paradise Forum (which is not great), opposite The Yardbird (which I’m ambivalent toward). It’s undoubtedly the campiest restaurant in Birmingham, if not the country. Its bright orange walls, even more intensely orange-uniformed staff, and multicoloured sushi dishes assault your senses and taste of decency all at once. I swear, I almost had an epileptic fit just walking into the place once; the Japanese pop playing over the sound system threatened to give me aural diabetes. Oh, and the food? It’s actually rather delicious, with a great all you can eat deal on sushi, and I highly recommend the chicken katsu with a glass of plum wine.

I just have one problem: the manager. Oh, he’s not rude or anything; the service in Woktastic is actually second-to-none. Look, this is a bit of an odd situation, but I need to let this out to someone, so it might as well be you. The manager, he… thinks my name is Stan (my name is Hazz). Here’s what happened: I once impersonated my friend Stan, as he didn’t want to cancel a booking in person, so I did it for him, claiming to be Stan, and now every time I go in there, the guy thinks I’m called Stan. What do I do? Do I just… tell him? No, I can’t do it. I can’t tell him that I’m not Stan.

“That’s not a real problem, Hazz, you goddamn nutcase, chill out.”

Oh, but it is a problem, dearest reader, for you see, I have to book a birthday party (yes, you’re invited, bring a gift) there soon, which means I’ll have to give him my name. My real name. Did I mention my name isn’t Stan? What do I do? I can’t just tell the guy I’m not Stan, that’d be hideously embarrassing, I’m too much of a social maladroit to have that conversation; the awkward, ghastly shamespeech where I have to explain I attempted to bamboozle him, I tried to play a ruse upon him. I have committed… uragiri against him and his people.. Actually, I think he’s Italian, but it doesn’t bloody matter, he’s lovely and I’ve stabbed him in his very friendly back. Let me explain how lovely he is. He’s charming, he’s welcoming, the guy always comes over to have a chat, he brings me a fork so I can eat my currysauce-sodden rice without looking like a special needs kid, he has a lovely, shiny bald head; he engages in friendly banter, he wears nice shirts, he’s generally just bloody ace.

No, I can’t break his heart.

I can’t correct him next time he calls me Stan. What’d that do to our relationship? He’d lose face, surely? I’d be bringing shame upon his name, his restaurant, his family. No, I can’t do that, I can’t reveal that I’m an identity thief.

No, I won’t let that happen. I know what I must do: I must continue this charade. I must live a double life. I must become Stan. I must live as Stan. Stan’s a thin Chinese dude, I’m a not-thin white guy, but that doesn’t matter. I will be Stan.

I am Stan.

Try the chicken yakitori, it’s delicious.

Some things what I wrote recently.

Last month I pretended to be a farmer, a trucker, a woodcutter and a surgeon. You can read all about it in the first of two Contributoria articles I’ve got published this month.

The second article is about my experience trying to make a video game. It didn’t go well, but it’s the journey, not the destination, he said, weeping into his tea.

I wrote a thing about House of Cards and its groundbreaking portrayal of video games. You can read it at Medium, because why not?

Finally, there’s a new episode of Shit Bullseye Prizes. This month Jim Bowen gives away a computer and some games, but all is not what it seems.

Space dementia

I am in a nitenite hotel. It’s a bit like a Bloc hotel, but the rooms are smaller. It’s not quite a capsule hotel, more like a prison cell on a space ship. The air conditioning gently throbs and hums in the background, while the live feed on the wall-mounted Telescreen TV — from a camera on the roof — gives you a low resolution view of the city, all grey and depressing. You soon get used to the lack of windows and stare at the city. Forever.

The corridors in this place are the longest I’ve ever seen. They seem to go on forever, like an optical illusion, but one that eventually ends with a snack machine selling overpriced KitKats and wine gums.

If Lovecraft were alive today, I think one of his protagonists would end up here, alone, going insane, writhing in their own filth, complimenting the lobby, with its Wetherspoons-esque chairs and book shelves, discussing the endless spiral stairs that take you to the infinity corridors.

All in all, it’s quite nice, as long as you don’t mind feeling like you’re going a bit peculiar. The bed’s comfy, there’s a wet room, a writing desk, and a control panel next to the bed that only adds to the effect that you might actually be floating through the heavens on a spacecraft, the memories of your suburban life a cruel trick the brain is playing on you as it suffers the effects of space dementia.

Free Wi-Fi, too.

8/10, would sleep here again.


It’s time for another exciting episode of Sherwood Watch! The pilot was a resounding success, with literally dozens of views, and some very positive feedback from fans. “This is pointless” said Villafan1974. “Why are you doing this?” cried Paulmcgrathmlord. “You got some change, boss?” said a vagrant at the bus stop.

Luckily for those fine people, Tim Sherwood has been doing what he does best — flapping those fine, flawless gums of his.

I don’t think anyone’s managed to better my win record, even this guy Pochettino, and everyone’s talking about how well he’s done.

NOPE. Tim Sherwood’s win record at Spurs, after just 28 games, was 14-4-10, making it 50%. Mauricio Pochettino, with 43 games, is currently at 23-10-10, making it 53.49%. Is it entirely fair to compare these records given the small amount of games? No, but Tim keeps bringing it up. Andre Villas-Boas is at 55%, David Pleat at 50.42% and Harry Redknapp trails Timbo at 49.49% (with 170 more games managed).

Tim could, of course, be referring specifically to his Premier League win record (he doesn’t specify, though), but without a full season in charge, it seems slightly sad to be clinging onto something like that. The last time a Villa manager wanked on about his former team like this was Gerrard Houllier, but at least he’d won a few trophies before joining. It’d be interesting to compare Sherwood’s PL loss record to his peers.

The only win record that matters at the moment is his record at Villa, which stands at 0%.

Experience is overrated. Pep Guardiola didn’t have to go out and work in the lower leagues, did he? It helps when you have the best players in the world.”

NOPE. Pep Guardiola wasn’t some random chump who just lucked into a team with players like Messi and Xavi. Guardiola is a student of the game, who worked under Johan Cruyff  and Carlo Mazzone amongst others. He’s famous for being a football nerd, analysing games, breaking his opponents down and exploiting weaknesses. His big, beautiful brain notched him a treble in his first season at Barcelona.

Sherwood is a proponent of man-management, which has led to him publicly criticizing players, distancing himself when things go wrong. Tim, you can’t stick a win record in a trophy cabinet.


A new feature here now where I’ll be stalking everything Tim Sherwood says to the media (or as much as I can bother to read via F365 and Twitter) and fact-checking the handsome, gilet-wearing beast’s comments. Here’s the first installment.

I remember playing against Christian Benteke as a manager and I know what a handful he can be

Nope. He managed one game against Aston Villa, his last Spurs game as manager, a 3-0 victory, with Paulinho, Baker (OG) and Adebayor scoring for the home side on 11 May 2014. Christian Benteke didn’t play and was not a handful anywhere. The game is notable for featuring Jordan Bowery attempting to play Premier League football.

When I came here [Villa Park] as a player, I found it a difficult place to get a result.

He lost three games at Villa Park as a player, drawing two and winning one. He also scored a goal. Yeah, we’ll give him this.

I’m the headmaster now

Nope. Tim Sherwood is a football manager, currently training for his UEFA Pro License. He has no training as a teacher or headteacher, nor is he currently employed by any schools.

Sports entertainment.

From the very fact that at some point during our lives we say that we want to be professional wrestlers …there is obviously something mentally wrong with us. – Chris Candido, 1972-2005

I want to write a thing about the wonderful, mental, seedy, sleazy, beautiful world of professional wrestling. Here is the proposal, but I want to go into a bit more detail about it.

I’ve been watching wrestling on and off since I was about 6 years old. I started with the cartoon-style WWF, with Hulk Hogan going on about prayers and vitamins, Ultimate Warrior generally just ranting, Bret Hart being the excellence of execution, and goddamnit, I even liked Koko B Ware. I would enjoy it as wrestling really should be enjoyed — by completely buying into it. When I was about 13-14, after years of suspicion, I finally found out that pro wrestling wasn’t entirely on the level. It might actually be the dreaded f-word – fake.

A subscription to Power Slam magazine would confirm my suspicions and pro wrestling went from a colourful, camp tale of super heroes battling each other each week, to a horrible saga involving backstage politics, drug and alcohol abuse, finally ending in the ultimate tragedy – the double-murder and suicide of Chris Benoit.

I stopped watching after the Benoit incident because I couldn’t help but feel like I was partially responsible. Chris Benoit’s brain was so damaged it “resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient” according to a neurosurgeon. He had damage to all four lobes of the brain and brain stem. And why was his brain like this? Because he’d done it to himself in order to entertain me and millions of others.

I’d loved wrestling up until that event, but I found it hard to reveal to people that I loved it. During the boom in 1998-2001, it wasn’t so bad, because wrestling was absolutely everywhere. In 2015, it’s kind of hard to come out of the wrestling closet. Why, though?

Pro wrestling, as I hope to explain in the article, is basically ballet, it’s a dance, at its best it’s two men telling a story with their bodies. The themes don’t generally get more complicated than good vs evil, and the storylines themselves are almost always moronic, badly written and badly executed, but my god, when they get it right, it’s mesmerising. For every Katie Vick moment, there’s a match like Shawn Michaels vs Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 21. I won’t spoil it, but the end of the match genuinely had me in tears.

I’m going to see if I can get people who have no interest in it to watch and enjoy a match. Is it even possible? I’m going to try and sell it to you, the majority who couldn’t care less. If you could, please take 60 seconds and sign up to Contributoria (for free) and back my article (for free) so I can pay my rent and talk about this beautiful, terrible sport.

Ladbrokes – the RPG

So I’ve launched a couple of Contributoria proposals this month. One of them is called Journalism Simulator 2015 and will be a look into the world of simulator video games. I’ll be covering some of the best titles, like Euro Truck Simulator 2, and some of the worst, like Woodcutter Simulator 2013. I’m gonna try and have a chat with some of the developers to see what drives them to make such intricate, but seemingly dreary titles. I’ll also be chatting to fans, especially the super fans who have elaborate peripheral set ups.

The other article I’m proposing is called Is it possible to make and release a video game in a month? Let’s find out. A truly dire title and one with which I wrestled with for literally minutes, trying to decide if I should end it with an exclamation mark or not.

I’d like to put the Contribut(ute) into Contributoria this month. The latter article has got a wee buzz going via the comments and I’d like to open up the article and game’s development to everyone, even if they haven’t backed. I think it’d be nice to get some more collaboration going and I hope it’ll be a fun, interesting experiment in crowdsourced game development. I don’t know how open it’s going to be, perhaps limited to allowing people to name towns, items, enemies, etc, or getting people to help with music, sprites or design.

For the game design itself, I’m thinking it’s probably going to be a satirical bookmaker simulator, where you control a struggling cashier who has to battle against evil age checkers, powerful area manager sorcerers, and try to juggle between running various shops whilst fighting goblins and shit. Like real life, really.

What do you think?

It takes about a minute or two to sign up and back any of the above articles, and it’s completely free. It would be great if you could help out either through backing, or leaving a comment or two.

Please donate all of your Drebin Points.

I have picked a pretty shit time to do a 24 hour gaming marathon. I intended on having a lie in, but woke up with a nasty headache and some loss of hearing in my right ear. I have a terrible cough and generally feel like someone has taken a foul dump in my head. BUT! Today is the day and there’s no getting out of it. My friend Lisa and I will be playing the first three Metal Gear Solid games back-to-back, with no cut scene skipping. We’ll be sitting through every codec conversation, every long-winded discussion about control and freedom in the information age, every poop joke, every grizzled chat about love blooming on the battlefield.

This is kind of a test run for future gaming marathons and unfortunately we don’t have the hardware to stream this one, but we will be live-tweeting throughout, which I’m sure will get very tiresome for everyone involved. All you have to do is go about your day as normal, perhaps send the occasional encouraging tweet or text, and if you can, please donate, or spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, Friendster, or leave a link in your AIM away messages.

I’ll be doing some more writing about Crisis and Metal Gear when Lisa takes the controls during the marathon. I hope you can join us, either in person, or via the twitters, and yeah, do send us money. Lots of it.

Brief thoughts on self-exclusion

There are many things a gambler can do at the moment if they think they have a problem controlling their spending. They can call GamCare, the industry-funded charity; they can use mandatory and voluntary machine limits, or they can self-exclude from shops. Here’s a problem with self-exclusion – it’s broken and doesn’t work.

At Ladbrokes, you can self-exclude for up to a year (details online on the official Ladbrokes website list it as up to five years, but this hasn’t been updated, presumably because no one can be arsed). The onus is completely on you, the problem gambler, to make sure you abide by the terms of the self-exclusion. You have to provide a good photograph and hope that it’s processed properly. You have to hope you don’t have something like this go in the system –

self ex

There are about 30 odd shops in Birmingham city centre. So once you’ve self-excluded from that one, you’ve got to make sure you don’t go into any of those. Make sure you do the same process in the other shops, make sure the picture is just as good. Evidently, this system isn’t working. From April 2012-March 2014, there were 46,999 self-exclusions. Because you have to fill out forms for individual company’s shops (customers are encouraged to self-exclude from other shops/casinos/bingo halls) it’s not known how many are individual self-exclusions. In that same period, there were 34,378 known breaches of self-exclusions.

The system isn’t working.

As with the machine limits, the task of making sure problem gamblers don’t gamble is left up to the customer and the cashier. Even if everything goes perfectly, you’ve got to hope that today’s staff members have seen and memorised the new self-exclusion form (I worked in a quiet shop and we had dozens, it was impossible to memorise all of them). You’ve got to hope that someone who is covering a break will check the folder (no one does; why would they?). There’s no pressure on staff to check and memorise the forms. Even if they did it once a week, once a day, they can’t and shouldn’t be expected to memorise dozens of forms. Legally, companies are covered, so it’s not made a priority. It’s up to the problem gambler to stay out and keep out.

Shortly after the machine limits went live, Ladbrokes released a statement via their weekly newsletter, What’s Happening. It responded to complaints from staff that they were expected to be counselors and psychologists, as well as doing a million other jobs. Ladbrokes didn’t accept this suggestion, but didn’t really explain how it wasn’t true. Cashiers are expected to look out for signs of stress in customers and deal with it accordingly. If the customer isn’t outwardly stressing out, then the customer is left to their own devices.

Just because a customer isn’t shouting, kicking, or spitting, there’s still a chance that they’re not in control, that they’re spending beyond their means. Once a customer has been interacted with about their machine play, a cashier is to monitor their habits and only intervene if they’re not playing or behaving as usual. How am I supposed to know what’s usual from seeing someone sit at a machine? How do I know that that £200 they’ve just loaded onto the machine isn’t their last £200? That they’re going to leave the shop and beg, borrow or steal some money?

Self-exclusion doesn’t work.

Mandatory machine limits don’t work.

There’s little to no data about voluntary limits.

Who is expected to sort all this out? The cashier, the person just barely above minimum wage. It’s up to them to adhere to Think 21 procedures, keep the shop tidy, process bets, oh, and psychoanalyse customers as they play roulette. Generate the paperwork, do the bare minimum, because that’s all you need to do.

What’s the solution? Maybe making loyalty cards compulsory. Track spending habits, make machine limits mandatory, lock out a card once it goes over a daily, weekly, monthly limit, tie the cards to debit cards. Nothing like this is going to be implemented until they’re forced to. Until something happens, we’re left with self-exclusion and poking the customer on the shoulder and asking if they’re okay, which we all know isn’t doing anything.