Wrote this over two days. If you're not interested in football (the round ball kind), or PC games, you might want to just avoid reading it. :)
Tuesday, 19 August
Winter is definitely still here. Rain, rain and more rain, with a forecast of, yes, you guessed it, rain for the rest of the week. I don't mind a day of it here and there, but it's been going on now for four days. Yesterday I didn't even want to leave the house because it was so bleak, windy and wet. When I did get out, to mail off the entry form for the annual Art Works! competition, it was only for half-an-hour. Entry form, paper, some groceries, then home and back to the computer and what appears to be my latest gaming addiction – X-Com: Enemy Within.
But more on that later. I'm happy to say that the soccer team that I'm with, North Rocks 35/7's, managed to earn a draw on the weekend, thus ensuring a place in the play-offs. As it turns out, we secured third place, thanks mostly to an unexpected loss to the fourth placed side, who would've leap-frogged us had they won. It's just as well none of it went to a for and against tiebreak. Our season record of 10-2-6 looks pretty good, but our for and against of 46-44 doesn't. (To think, I had 12 of those put past me in the first three games of the season.)
As you can see, very bleak conditions at Bella Vista Oval as the game got underway.
The rain started no sooner after I sat down on the reserves bench.
Our 3-all draw though was thanks to something else. I have often said that football is a game of inches, or even centimetres, which could mean the difference between a win or a loss. In our case, it saved our season. With the home side up 2-3, they got what was a very contentious penalty, an accidental handball in the penalty area. This season any penalty against us was a certain goal, but this time round, it wasn't. With the home side needing to beat us to get into the play-offs, a fourth goal, with around fifteen, twenty minutes to go, probably would've been enough to get them there seeing their tails were up and ours were down. However, a tired forward kicked it straight into the keeper's left-hand post (rather than the bottom left-hand corner that he usually aims for, the gent told us after the match) and the ball ricocheted away. I said at the time, whilst on the bench, that the football gods were definitely smiling on us.
And they were. A few minutes later, we get a corner. It hit the back of one of our mid-fielders and went in. The team lifted, and went close to bagging a fourth to win the game outright in the final minutes of the game.
It was a game that I wished had been filmed. With very grey clouds overhead, we took to the pitch, knowing that just a point was all we needed to get through. The rain started to fall not long after the match commenced, and those of us on the side-line were huddled under umbrellas trying to stay dry until we went onto the pitch. We scored twice in the opening ten minutes, taking advantage of the wet pitch and ball and a keeper that was having trouble hanging onto it. I missed seeing the goals, distracted by something else at the time. The second one I didn't even think had gone in. A long range shot was fired in, the keeper parrying away it with his hand. I chose that time to look down and grab my water-bottle, only to see that the sides were setting up for a kick-off. I then learnt that the keeper hadn't pushed it over the bar, but into the top corner of the net.
But the opposition came back at us. Two goals, the second resulting from an uncontrolled pass, popping up nicely for the forward who raced away, then got around the keeper to score. At 2-2, I then make my way onto the pitch to steady the ship and take my place in the back-line of our 5-3-2 defensive formation. The scores stayed locked until half-time. Thankfully the rain stopped not long before I got on the pitch.
To be honest, they didn't have much variation in attack, long, hopeful balls played forward through a midfield that we controlled. What they did do however, was switch players around, keeping me on my toes especially. I wasn't marking the same bloke for most of the time that I was on, I had three different players coming at me. Then there were attempts to draw players wide, which our defensive mid-fielders on the flanks had to be wary of. They were meant to go forward when we attacked, then drop back in defence. As a central defender, I wasn't meant to go wide, but on occasions, I had to.
And on one such occasion, they scored, because the player coming through in the centre wasn't picked up. I was marking a player, who was going wide, and starting to make a run. I had thought the defensive midfielder had picked up the other player coming through. He hadn't. (In fact, the DM thought that I had picked him up he said to me after the game.) So, split-second assessment. Do I stay on the wide player, or go after the one in the centre? I went after the one in the centre. End result, I don't get to him in time, he gets past the keeper, and the ball gets past my outstretched left leg on the line for the third.
I was quite furious after that. Both me and the defensive midfielder get pulled off, and I'm thinking that that's my game over with for the day. Thankfully, I get back on for the last ten or so minutes, as the central defender on the right was absolutely knackered and needed a break.
It wasn't a pretty result, but we took it anyway. I don't know what it was, whether we just switched off (collectively) after we went 2-0, or our opponents found some inspiration, capitalising on a couple of errors to get themselves back into the match. Defensive errors just cost us way too much in matches. We have a little mix-up, one of the rare errors I make on the pitch, and it almost costs us the game, and the season. You can imagine how I felt being called off the pitch after 2-3. Thankfully, we live another week, and I can breathe a little easier. I got home around 9pm, having stayed for drinks and a chat, and the bus driver for whatever the reason failing to stop at the stop I wanted. Still, it allowed me to get a celebratory Chinese takeaway feed, even though it was a later than usual, and wet.
So, now it's just a case of waiting to see if the rain stops. I've been informed that there are two likely scenarios. The first one (and the most likely one) is that one week of play-offs is eliminated, and the second week becomes a straight knock-out, 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3, with the winners going straight to the grand final. The second, which makes the fourth place side's loss very beneficial for us, is that the first week of the play-offs gets scrapped, and the second week sees the fourth placed side gets eliminated without playing, leaving 2 vs 3 to contest the final, the winner to take on the first placed side in the final, who benefits from a week off. (A mid-week play-off is unlikely at this stage I should add.)
At this stage I can hardly see the boys getting onto the training pitch tomorrow. (The bulk of the team trains. I'm excused seeing I live too far away.) The grounds at North Rocks must be underwater by now. I even took a squiz at the Bureau of Meteorology site, the rain has settled in from Wollongong right up to Port Stephens.
Right, enough of the weather. I briefly mentioned earlier that I braved the poor conditions to go off and post my entry to the Art Works! competition, which is in October at the art gallery in East Gosford. The entry form has to be in by August 25, which seems a bit odd, but hey, one goes by the rules of the competition. The form asks for the usual material, such as picture dimensions, price (if it's for sale), as well as a brief blurb about the contributor. Normally I would frame the image first then fill in the form, but this time I decided to guestimate the size of the frame I would be using, seeing I've all of September to get the image framed. I've even upped the price. My entry this time round shall be of a spotted smooth-shelled crab that just had his eyes poking up through the water's surface. Strangely enough, I took it on the water's edge behind the very art gallery the competition will be held at.
I've even found a few more competitions to enter, one local, and two related somewhat to the mental health group that I belong to. Thankfully, entries aren't due until next month. One even has a poetry section as well, so I might just go through my old pieces and see what I could submit.
With all this wet and windy weather, one has almost felt obliged to stay indoors as much as possible. I did venture out last Monday (11/8) to Avoca Beach to see a special screening of Monty Python Live (almost) at the cinema there. Must say I enjoyed it, though it felt like at times that I was the only person in the cinema getting into it, singing along with all of the songs (I never miss a chance to sing I'm a Lumberjack or The Philosopher's Song, or even recite some of the sketches, like the Spanish Inquisition one) and enjoying the sketches, even though I've probably seen them dozens of times. (For a considerable part of the screening, the biggest laugh was for a fart joke during the Chocolate Frog sketch... ) Graham Chapman was featured, via the odd clip, and there were plenty of Terry Gilliam's old animation sequences dropped in as well. Carol Cleveland made an appearance or two, and some of bigger numbers had a chorus line to go with it.
Despite the bleak weather on the day, I even went for a walk around the beach and took a few pictures, most of which turned out quite fine. (I don't let a thing like grey skies stop me. In fact, I don't mind it at all, seeing it keeps people away and the beach mostly clear.) The lengthy bus ride home didn't matter. I was quite relaxed by the time I got back home.
It was quite chilly when I took this snapshot of Avoca Beach. A very good day to be indoors.
Well, the boys at the comic book store are packing up, so it's almost time to go home. I shall save this and continue it later on.
Wednesday, 20 August
And, typically, later on turns out to be the next day.
I've found another distraction. True Detective, another HBO series which had me hooked after the first episode. I saw something about it on the ABC News recently, after an Australian gent won an Emmy for the opening title sequences, which were rather good and really set the mood for the show. It's a creepy show, very bleak, with flawed, grey lead characters, that are played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The former plays a straight talking state policeman, who's marriage is experiencing difficulties (thanks mostly to him), whilst the other clearly has a personality flaw, very intellectual, and very much a loner. The story is being told from the present looking backwards, as the two law enforcers are being interviewed by two other officers.
The thing that really got me interested – Cthulhu references, second episode. Superb soundtrack, really sets the mood. Add a religious sect, a biker gang, dead women with strange markings on their skin, one posed with deer antlers on her head, and a Louisiana backdrop and I'm definitely hanging out for season two already whilst only being halfway through season one. Feels like I'm watching the X-Files mixed with Seven.
Queue background music – The Shadow out of Tim by Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. I'd like to get this finished today before I'm compelled to watch the rest of TD. So, what else has gotten me sidetracked lately? Computer games. I shouldn't have bought/downloaded them, but I did, and now they're taking up too much time. The only way I stop playing them is by getting out of the house, which I had to do yesterday. There's been a series of them, starting with Close Combat – Gateway to Caen, the latest instalment in the superb Close Combat series. Nothing changes, I'm playing the Germans, and doing rather well on the current grand campaign, with the Allied AI two levels higher than my units. I'm finding that my defence is quite costly, in men, armoured vehicles and guns. I'm yet to concede sectors, though one area has turned into metal graveyard, with tanks, tank killers and AVs littering the countryside. I'm looking at pulling back there, so that the allies have to push forward to a built up area, that I can defend better than open fields. The mixture of real-time battles and turn based strategy has long appealed to me, with one being able to alter the make-up of his forces prior to the battle, which consist of three companies, with one of them being dedicated support units/vehicles that you can mix and match to suit your perceived needs. The troops gain experience, just like in other games in the series, and yes, you can call in mortar, artillery, or even air support during the movement phase. If you don't use it, you can save it for the next phase of the campaign.
Next comes Tropico V, which I bought off the shelf whilst on sale at JB Hi-Fi. (Little side anecdote. A couple of months ago I picked up the game, plus some DVDs and walked out of the store. I had just reached the carpark when something compelled me to check my purchases. Sure enough, the sales clerk had forgotten to put the ruddy game in the packaging. Her excuse? She thought it was another DVD that was already enclosed in the box.) Been a big fan of the sim-island sim-dictator game, since a friend of mine bought me the original one well over a decade ago. Quite liked what they've done to the game, especially being allowed to create a dynasty, and have your family members run public buildings, and undertake some of the various tasks that pop up. Then there's the timeline. You start as a British colony, work your way to independence, then have to take sides during the world wars. After that, it's the cold war, and you're choosing sides again. You end up in the modern age, where there are additional factions other than Russia and the US to choose from, namely, the European Union, China, and the Middle East. One must research to unlock specific buildings, one can create a constitution, and one can still create policies, including the formation of a police state. Gone are the days that one could get through a game with just a barracks, an armoury and the troops of your palace guard to defend your island, I find if you don't build up your military as your population grows, you will be overrun, either by rebels, your own people, or foreign invaders.
For something different, I tried a third-person shooter, but only because it's the first part of a revamped series of an old favourite of mine, X-Com. I used to play Terror From the Deep and Apocalypse quite a lot, having completed the latter on two occasions. This one, The Bureau: X-Com declassified, is primarily a shooter, with some narrative thrown in which you follow along so that you can build up your character's knowledge of the situation he's been thrown into – that of an alien invasion of earth in the 1950s. You don't control research, you don't build ships or modify your base, it's just go out and shoot aliens, complete missions and earn experience, which then allows you to add new abilities to your operatives. It didn't take me long to realise why I don't play TPSs too often. The real-time shoot-ups leave my head swimming, giving me the occasional headache and disorientating me very easily. I found, even on the rookie level, the game quite hard, with my lead character (and the rest of my three person unit) often getting killed prompting multiple re-loads, which, as you can imagine, makes things extremely frustrating for me. In one such overwhelming battle, I was killed ten times in the space of five minutes.
I'm glad I completed it though (took 24 hours of game time to do so), for it was good primer for X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and the add-on, X-Com: Enemy Within. The aliens that you were blasting away in the 1950s were back to terrorize you in the modern world, and, as I have discovered, they're much easier to kill. This time, I'm back into the more familiar territory of modifying your own bases, conducting your research, and building (and arming) your own ships. There's a lot from the old games that I see in this one. Some of the aliens, such as the sectoids and the flying weapons disks, are back, along with friends from the Declassified game, as well as some new ones like the thin men, that promptly explode into poisonous gas clouds when killed. You have to shoot the alien ships down, undertake a variety of missions from crash site retrievals to base attacks (and defence), and keep the nations that pony up the dough to keep you operational happy, least you have them drop out and change sides. Your soldiers can be genetically altered, and they can even be turned into cyborgs. They can be awarded medals which can give them (and the unit they're in) specific bonuses.
And for me it's quite addictive. Days and nights just fly by when I'm playing this.
Well, what's up for the rest of the week? Tomorrow, a rare game of Blood Bowl in Sydney, for the current league I'm involved in down there. I'm really tempted to just find a cinema and go see a movie before the game. Friday, well, laundry has to be done sometime this week I suppose. Saturday, well, it could be soccer in the afternoon, then off to see Mythbusters live at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in the evening. If today's weather, that of clouds and sunshine with no rain continues, then I guess I'll be playing. If not, it'll be up to the comic book store, then high-tailing it down to Sydney for the show, seeing the store owners are going as well and they'll be driving.
And next Sunday (31/8), I'll be be hosting a Blood Bowl tournament up at the store. Just a one day event, and hopefully more people attending then there were last time I ran one.
Right. Time to post this. Cheers!
Note - all images in this post (c) 2013/14 Geoff G Turner.