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Fortune favours the other bloke
Regular readers will be aware that reviews have not so much been thin on the ground of late, but appeared to have ceased. In a long overdue blog, Slarek reflects on why his trip to Japan left him with less free time than he was expecting, and reveals why he's struggled with reviewing discs since his return.
27 April 2019


  "If you threw salt over your shoulder to avoid bad luck, it would end up in your eye."
  Fellow reviewer Camus on my recent fortunes.


This blog is overdue, and I mean way overdue. I started writing it over two weeks ago to explain why reviews were not appearing as I promised before my trip to Japan, but then something else happened, something I thought would be a temporary blip but which has instead seriously impacted on my ability to deliver the said reviews and even easily watch the discs in question. Allow me to waffle.

If you read my last blog, you'll by now be well aware that I failed miserably to live up to some of the promises I made in it. At the time of writing, I was at the tail end of a series of emotional turmoils that had seen a trip to Japan that I desperately needed and had been looking longing forward to for over a year twice coming within a whisker of being cancelled, on both occasions due to serious health issues involving the people who are close to me. When I eventually received a forceful all-clear to go from a sister whose condition had stabilised but is still a major cause for concern, I was left with just a few days to pull everything together in time for my departure. As I did so I made some tentative plans. I'm now reliant on crutches to get about, and walking even a moderate distance invites a serious smack from a fiery pain monster, one that no drugs have yet successfully been able to effectively dampen. I thus assumed that when I reached my destination I'd be spending a lot of time sitting around, which would enable me not only to keep a promise to my sister and shoot and edit regular video diaries and post them on a private YouTube link for her to watch, but continue to post news stories to the site and write about movies I planned to view in my hotel room after I returned each evening.

Looking back, I can't help wondering who I thought I was kidding.

Food in Japan

First of all, I was in Japan. It's my favourite place on Earth, but one that my colourful life complications and moderate income ensure that I am only infrequently able to visit. I knew my mobility restrictions would be an issue on this visit, but not being able to walk far is less of a problem when your hotel is only a couple of hundred metres from the railway station and there are an absolute slew of restaurants and shops a short train ride away. And I spent a lot of my time eating, drinking, travelling and sightseeing, plus as a few days chilling out at an onsen spa resort. If you're looking to relax, I can't recommend this enough. Shooting video for my sister was made relatively easy by my GoPro Hero 7, whose small size enabled me to carry it in my pocket and be ready to shoot in seconds, and it was a lot less obtrusive for filming in public locations than my DSLR. Its spanking image quality, wide angle lens, huge depth of field and inbuilt stabilisation made it – coupled with GoPro's own excellent 3-way arm grip and a Zoom H1n recorder and clip mic for when the background sound was noisy – an ideal camera for shooting off-the-cuff video diaries. By shooting in 4K and editing down to 1080p, I also didn't have to worry too much about the framing when I turned the camera on myself as I was able to reframe in post without losing image quality.

And I needed this break. Man, did I need it, and once I knew everything was OK at home I dived head-first into the joy of being somewhere that I can completely unwind. In no time at all, even checking email was something I did only when I had a few minutes of down time, and I soon realised that those earlier promises were not going to be met. Let's be clear about this. For me, watching movies is one of life's most rewarding pleasures and writing about them is something I genuinely enjoy doing. During my time in Japan, however, they almost became a distraction, requiring me to almost put my immersion into the location – one that I had access to for a limited time – on pause. It wasn't going to happen. I did post a few of the more interesting news stories (usually between getting up and heading out for the first meal of the day), but finding time to sit down and watch any of the films I took with me for review presented me with an impossible logistical struggle. I eventually gave up trying to find the time. I would, I reasoned, make up for it when I returned home. After all, this trip had already done wonders for my mental and physical health. It had relaxed me, recharged me, and every day I was eating food that was not only delicious, but nutritious and healthy. I was ready for anything.

Then, two days before I was due to fly home, I caught a cold. Yeah, well, it happens. Osaka is a crowded city and every time you even take a short train journey you come into close contact with literally hundreds of people, any one of whom could have been the source of my unwelcome infection. It put a slight downer on the end of the holiday – the older I've got, the harder colds seem to hit me and this one was a howler – but it's not as if I've never had a heavy cold before. I thus treated the symptoms as best I could, donned the regulation face mask to avoid passing it on to others (this is common in Japan) and boarded my plane for what I knew was going to be a long and uncomfortable trip. All seemed fine until we were descending towards Heathrow.

Now I should point out here that in all my years of travelling I've never once experienced that ear-popping issue that so plagues passengers during take-off and landing (my intense dislike of take-offs and landings has its roots elsewhere), but this time both of my ears pressured up to the point where it felt as though my head was being compressed from both sides by one of those creatures from Trollhunter. I attempted to clear them in the usually prescribed way and while the left ear promptly cleared, when the right ear eventually did likewise it wasn't a pop but a huge and disgustingly squelchy explosion. Unpleasant though it was, that seemed to be the end of it.

That night I was woken by a pain in that ear like I've never known. A doctor suggested a blocked Eustachian tube due to the cold and prescribed ibuprofen. Then I started losing the hearing in that ear. A second doc suspected a burst blood vessel and prescribed pain killers, a decongestant and antibiotics to tackle any resultant infection. Over the course of the next few days I lost all hearing in that ear, which was replaced by a ringing so loud that it impacted on the what I could hear clearly in the still functioning left ear. Any general noise, such as crowds, traffic or the sound from a TV, felt as if it had been thrown into a blender and transformed into something abstract, then let loose inside my head at a dizzying volume. It was also bloody painful, and one full course of antibiotics later had actually worsened. On my next visit to the doc it was suggested that I probably had a middle ear infection (note probably – you can't clearly see into the middle ear with one of those tools that they use to gaze into your ear) and a longer course of higher powered antibiotics was prescribed, but with the warning that the problem might not be as straightforward as originally thought. On Monday I'm having my head shoved into tone of those deafening MRI scanners in order to search for signs of more lasting damage. I have no dounbt that will be fun in itself.

What this means is that even sitting down to watch a film has been nigh-on impossible as the soundtrack is muffled and combines with the ringing to set my head spinning. Even if I do manage to make my way through a disc, I am not really in a position to accurately judge the quality of its audio, at least as things currently stand. I did watch two of the films I took with me on the return journey from Japan (the in-flight movie selection was terrible) that I had made notes on the audio quality of before my departure. I also managed to work my way through a third disc before the hearing loss became too problematic and I aim to post these reviews as soon as possible. It's taken a while to get my brain into focus and get used to the presence of that incessant ringing. I've yet to get accustomed to the disgusting taste and unpleasant smell that seems to have lodged itself in my throat and nose, somethiung that may be caused either by the infection or the antibiotics. I can also clearly hear my heartbeat in my right ear. That might actually prove useful one day.

What happens next is in the hands of fate. I have a sizeable backlog of discs to cover, and the fact that I have been unable to get stuck into them it driving me up the wall. The antibiotics seem to be doing something, if slowly, and I've regained about 10% of the hearing in the right ear, though I'm only picking up on the higher frequencies at present. This does have its comical side – if I play a dialogue sequence from a film, turn the volume up and block the left ear, the actors sound as if they have all inhaled helium. Loud, high-pitched sounds, meanwhile, such as the unpleasant squeal of a small child, are a little like being stabbed in the ear with a knitting needle. If the hearing continues to return then I will definitely get the reviews flowing again, although it could be a slow process. If the MRI reveals a more long-term issue, I'll have to make a decision on whether it's viable to continue with a venture I've sunk two decades of my life into and do so want to keep going.

So my sincerest apologies go out to those who have been patiently waiting for reviews to appear, and especially to the fine people at Indicator, Eureka, Arrow and Second Run who have continued to send review discs in the understandable expectation that the site will pull out of this latest in a long series of unfortunate slumps.

Life. Don't talk to me about life. Here's salt in your eye.