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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Inner Yule

So for a while I've been debating how to write a blog about Christmas - or specifically how I feel about it. This has proven harder than one would suspect. It's led to a lot of self-analysis which has led to even more self-analysis, et cetera, like staring into the mouth of Charybdis and counting the teeth.

What it really comes down to is that I have a series of traits that don't match with the festive target market, really.

I'm an introvert for one. The amount of social occasions and family get-togethers that happen over Christmas (it's called the party season for a reason) can swiftly lead to burnout. The extroverts flourish - the introverts wilt. Often ducking out of Christmas functions can lead to problems, too, as they tend to be important.

Also the whole family aspect is another issue. My family isn't what one would necessarily call close; on Christmas Day the only two members of my family that I will necessarily see are my mum and aunt. That'll be quite nice, but at the same time I can't get behind the whole message of half of the ads on TV.

I think perhaps the biggest thing that works my nerves about the season is linked to my depression. Winter makes it worse, which is no secret. Expectation can weigh heavy - everyone's happy, and if one amongst them isn't, it can really mess with their karma. Not being in the spirit of things, walking against the flow, isn't actually a choice for a lot of people. The shadow you sometimes find yourself under doesn't give a damn how many doors you have left to open on your advent calendar, which is hard to grasp for those that don't suffer the condition. that it? I think that's it.

I'm not trying to grinch anyone's holiday. Truly. This is how I feel - not how anyone else should feel, nor a condemnation of how anyone else feels. If you enjoy your Christmas, then fill your boots and more power to you.

Just...please don't look at people like they've grown a second head, if they're not rolling out the tinsel with you.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Remember Remember

Gunpowder, treason and plot... these things have not proven terribly effective at bringing about positive social change in the UK. We the general general public have demonstrated a lack of stomach for such a thing.

There is of course significant debate about what WOULD work. There's a large proportion of the populace that argues that not voting is a good way to influence an elected body, which is - in my not so humble opinion - misguided.

If Russel "Parklife" Brand had his way and most of the British public stopped voting, all it does is reduce the margin by which each party can win - because there's a slice of the populace who will ALWAYS vote.


My great aunt has never ever failed to vote. She's a nonagenarian. She's racist,  homophobic, antisemitic, believes the BBC are trying to brainwash us all into being Scottish, and has several theories involving The Scientists (ominous music) and their attempts to destroy our good honest way of life. She believes there are 200 million immigrants in this country (which has a population of 64.2 million) and is still legally allowed to vote.

She's a nutter, but she's passionate about what she believes, as many nutters are. No matter how many lank-haired twerps like Brand tell them not to vote, they will vote.

If nobody else in this town does, that means that the nutters have free reign. Nutters like my luddite bigoted great aunt. Nutters like the EDL and their ilk. Nutters that have opinions on immigrants and economics that aren't tempered by logic or reason.

There is no doubt that the current voting system is far from ideal. The fact is though, while right-thinking individuals seek electoral reform, it's still the way our leaders are picked.

Luckily one can fight a war on multiple fronts.

Voting in an election doesn't invalidate the hard work put in to raise awareness for better voting systems. It doesn't turn you into a slave. Ten minutes out of your day, to ensure that your voice is heard in the (admittedly unfair) way that actually determines government? Not a bad ten minutes.

Then you can go right back to the "they're all the same" rhetoric, safe in the knowledge that you've at least counterbalanced the nutters a little.

...and hey. Just maybe the low voter turnout that the government relies on each year is being kept low by idiots like Brand. Maybe they are doing the establishment's dirty work without even knowing it.

Of course that's just a theory.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Writer

Almost a month since my last post...urgh. Trust me when I say I feel pretty shitty about that.

So NaNoWriMo is coming up. I'm gonna do it. Why not. Each year it seems I attempt it and fail miserably - but I gotta keep going. Especially the years it feels like I have too much to do, or whatever. Got to bull through. I'm stubborn like that.

I have a plan. If it falls through I plan, but I'll think of something.

It's scifi - and kind of a military scifi at that, but not quite. It's about a cyborg soldier; she gets released from a military find that her side lost.

The thing is - the two sides couldn't be more different. Her side - very conservative, all about productivity and industry, no genetic modification, no subtle bionics, none of that. The other side - pretty much the opposite.

It's about how she fits in with this new, different society. It's about how society isn't perfect, no matter how good life is. It's about what happens when a life seemingly on a one-way street suddenly comes across a junction.

It's also, of course, about what happens to the human mind when you take off the blinkers...and the boundaries.

This could be fun.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Pausing For (over)Thought

So it's been a while since my last blog, mainly because I started to overthink what it was about.

The original idea was to wax poetical about how high school never really ends (like the Bowling For Soup song). I got to thinking about how I would work it, the comparisons I would make, so on, and in the end it turned out to be quite a large topic - or at least my brain made it that way.

So I went in another direction; I decided to write one about Destiny, which I have been enjoying immensely - but then what would I say about it? Again I entered thinky stage, a stage that - in regard to that topic - never produced a blog.

Following that was the idea of chatting about the music I am enjoying right now but that got really thinky. What albums would I single out? The latest Counting Crows, Rise Against, Slash, Gaslight? Perennial favourites like The Cinematic Orchestra or Alice In Chains? So to try and decide I listened to a bunch of music, which didn't help matters at all.

Several times, the parties I game with have ended up being called Team Overthink. I think the reason why is perhaps connected to why people overthink things in "real life", or whatever the popular term is for when you're not playing your lvl17 Wizard.

Maximising the chances of success - that's just the beginning. We've all failed, and for the most part, we don't like it. Failure is bad, especially in a team, when other people are counting on us. The consequences of that failure vary wildly. Sometimes those consequences are NOT getting something awesome; sometimes they are the lives of the characters involved, or everyone within ten miles, or the fate of reality itself. A party of professional murder-hobos will go to immense lengths to ensure that when the ancient dragon dies, they can still get the gemstone stuck in its face.

One of those consequences isn't even necessarily failure. It's the thought of making the wrong decision. Something that flashes back even a little negatively can be looked upon as a screw-up of Windows ME-esque proportions - because whatever the actual difficulties caused by such a decision, we get to look back at when we made it and regret it constantly. Who cares if it got us past the army of goblins and destroyed a dragon with zero effort? It cost us a frigging gemstone.

It's about ensuring that there's no little trick that trips us up, too. Ensuring our attempt to achieve whatever we are trying to achieve is watertight, that no fickle twist of fate or minor oversight or well-meaning accident on behalf of someone else will sink it unjustly. Of course, many of those little tricks are products of our imaginative overthinking, too - but try telling the overthinker that, see what happens. So what if the dragon is weak to sonic attacks? That might shatter the gemstone!

We can't help it. Just like in a game, life has consequences for failure, or making the wrong decision.

The thing is, though - the game, we can put down afterwards. I've had characters die, or had bad things happen to them, or made really harsh decisions with those characters. Yesterday the first Pathfinder character I've ever had to actually get a Wish used it to dispose of the thing that gave him the Wish in the first place. That hurt. That decision cost my character potentially damn-near infinite wealth or a significant amount of power. There was no way Junayd would do anything else, though - that's who he is. So that is how it is justified, and when we put the character sheets down, we talk about it and laugh.

Outside of game, we don't get to put anything down and laugh in the same way. We're still engaged in the world that the consequences are a part of. Don't pay council tax? Expect a visit from a man with hobnail boots and a name like Mister Granite. Get absolutely mortal when you're meant to be up for work at 5am? At best, have a terrible day at work - at worst, get alcohol poisoning, get the sack, do something stupid while wasted and face criminal charges.

That's why it is so easy to overthink decisions. Reality plays for keeps, always has. These are the lessons we learn over the important things, so how are we meant to react to the trivial?

It begins in school - though while half the consequences there are direct (punishment for failure or misbehaviour), several are indirect (having no job prospects the moment one turns 18). We either learn that there are these consequences - and we run the chances of becoming an overthinker - or we just don't learn at all, and...

...well, we turn into something far worse.

So here's to the overthinkers - because frankly it's better than not thinking at all.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Keeping Up With The World

Hey all. Been a while since I posted, so before I do anything thematic, it's update time.

My left leg is clad up to the knee in a compression bandage. This is to treat an ulcer that sits on my left ankle and causes me no end of grief. If it's not one thing, it's another, right? So yes. That's a wonderful little fashion accessory.

Recently I came off a course of antibiotics to treat aforementioned ulcer. These were the kind where you couldn't eat an hour after taking them, and had to wait at least an hour after eating before you could take them. Which means big chunks of the day not eating.

You know how the only thing you want to do when you can't eat?

The only thing I want to do right now is scratch my leg. It feels like it is buried to the knee in a fire ant nest. 90% of the thoughts that pass through my mind daily are about scratching my leg - but I can't until the compression bandage comes off.

Thing is, when it comes off, another one is going on in its place.

If I am really lucky the nurse will permit me thirty seconds "scratch time".

On the plus side I've started collecting Gunpla again. You may have seen some of my piccies on facebook. Expect to see more - and when I have a wider selection I will take some decent pictures and post them here, perhaps.

Also the new Counting Crows album is wonderful.

Right. I am off to contemplate the blog post following this one. In the meantime, enjoy this little titbit of madness from beyond the Baltic... which a man antagonises the driver of a minibus with hilarious results.

Monday, 28 July 2014

DM Tips - What I Learned Out On The Road

I've acted as DM/ST for a few RPGs in my time. Not quite twenty years yet, but still, it's deep in the second decade right now. During that time I've come across some little sayings that - while only sometimes true - can make one's life in charge of an entire world that much easier.

1) Never throw a stick you don't want chased.
It might seem like a trivial throw-away detail to you - something that isn't worth worrying about, a minor piece of flavour to lend a hint of exoticism to your world. Be careful, though, because players pick up on details. They think - they overthink - they form conjecture. They'll chase that stick you just threw, whether it was an important stick or not. That movement in that shadow? They will want to take a look at it. The cursive handwriting of this note? They'll want to look into that. Be sure you know where a party will end up going if they chase that stick before you ever throw it - or at least be confident that you can think on your feet fast enough to keep the game going.

2) Never assume the stick will be chased.
On the flip-side of the previous point - don't be surprised if sometimes that juicy plot hook is actually passed up as apparently being a trivial throw-away detail. Sometimes it won't even be that players miss the potential story - sometimes they just don't want to go down that route. That's fine. Gaming is an exercise in character and journey, after all. Make sure there's alternatives or that you're prepared for a divergence - multiple sticks can sometimes be useful.

3) Detail and saturation are not the same thing.
It's very tempting to flood a setting with detail to try and give it that extra bit of depth. Don't. You only need so much - a hint here and there and people's imaginations will do the rest. Work the detail of the setting into the interactions the characters have with it, and you need never drown your players in exposition. It's like tricking people into learning - make it fun and it stops being a chore.

4) Be prepared, think fast.
The twofold strategy at handling anything your players do is thus: plan until just before you think you have enough, then freestyle the rest of the way. As long as your setting has a foundation, and you have good NPCs you can fall back on, then making it up as one goes along is no great crime. It can be pretty fun, too. That said, if you are thrown a huge curve ball, never be afraid to take ten minutes to rethink your plan or work some notes for a new approach.

5) Always have a surprise up your sleeve.
Things moving too slowly? Players plodding through a town they don't necessarily need to be in? Surprise them. Do something they aren't expecting. Stir up the status quo. Throw in a non-plot-related encounter with something they couldn't predict. As an added twist - work it into your plot in a way that isn't obvious yet. The life of an adventurer is filled with surprises.

6) They aren't your Sims.
It isn't you versus them. You have literally the entire world at your command, and they are a group of individuals within it. If the story is going to be about persecution and grossly unfair odds, tell the players beforehand - because most players come to the table expecting fairness and fun. They're people, not digital representations of people.

7) Don't be a dick.
This should be obvious. Randomly being an asshole to your players, constant bad jokes, mockery for no good reason - these things aren't acceptable in real life, they shouldn't be acceptable at your table. Banter and witticism between friends is okay. Abusing your position as DM to get away with being a dick is not. Learn that line - we have to do it in real life, after all.

There may be more to this later...but for now this will have to do.

Have fun.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

My New Tattoo

When its carnival season and the nights are long, the big light-up displays strung in between buildings downtown comes into its own. The parades pass under a shooting star brightly lit by dazzling lightbulbs, a symbol of hope and exploration and discovery in a small town held together by hope alone.

The tourists see that light - the brilliant display put on to muse and decorate and entertain. It allures and attracts, sheds its glow on all those that pass underneath it, laughing in the late evening. Then as the night wears on it becomes a beacon for those wending their way home, something to be pointed at and revelled in when one's state is slightly altered.

But then the tourists go home; the little shops close their doors and the outside starts to move a little slower. The posters come down. The lights stop being turned on, and instead of a pulsing gleam of a shooting star - we see its dark outline, a frame where our hope used to be. We see everything that made the illusion possible without the illusion.

A shooting star - a comet - a bright arc that flashes across the sky. Now dark and hollow, and shut down until the world turns warm again.

How could I not want this on my skin?

It's the cover of Recovering The Satellites, Counting Crow's second album - an album which as a whole, and in particular the titular track, speaks of a life in a small town. Talks of the lives of people from somewhere that is just smaller than most, with a few more walls than the average. It's about those people that manage to get away, that stay in orbit for a moment of time before coming back down again. Always drawn back to that little insular place we call home.

That's why I got it.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Rage Of Extinction

As many of you may know...I am a Transformers fan.

An Autobot from an early age you might say. I owned the original movie, and half of the original series, on VHS; I even had several episodes on Betamax. I could at one point name every single Autobot in seasons 1 and 2, and almost all the Decepticons, and this was before Wikipedia was even conceived of.

I watched a lot of cartoons. A lot. I watched almost the entire US run, two thirds of the JP run, all of Beast Wars that I could stand, somewhat less of Beast Machines, the entire US runs of Armada, Energon and Cybertron, the JP run of Robots In Disguise, almost all of Transformers: The Animated Series, and all of Transformers Prime. I read a significant proportion of the classic comics, most of the modern ones, and I played every Transformers game I could lay hands on.

When I heard of a live-action Transformers film - back in 2005 or so - I was so terribly excited, you have no idea. I was boiling over with excitement. Then I was invited to a wedding in the US around the time that the movie was due to be released - and as it was being released in the US long before the UK, I was totally psyched. I damn near exploded with joy.

I went to see it with my buddy Dan and several of his compadres. It was amazing, a great night, and even all of us getting ditched at a garage in the middle of butt fuck nowhere MD couldn't dampen my spirits. Dan and I went back to see it again two days later. Then when back on UK soil I went to see it twice more.

I was so in love with the idea that what was actually wrong with it passed me by. For a while.

It was when the second film came out that I started to ask questions. The Bay-isms started to become apparent. Despite going back to see it again, I had my doubts. Where before I had defended the Bayformers movies blindly, I started hearing some of the criticisms levelled, and recognising them as being far too valid.

The third film cemented the cold, hard truth of the matter.

Objectively, the live-action Transformers movies are terrible.

There's some action scenes that we can all approve of, some dumb comedy that we can appreciate. The robot fights - what few of them we see - are generally well-choreographed, and the soundtracking is on the whole not so bad.

None of that can save the trilogy from actually being awful.

And then, out of nowhere, we are treated to the announcement of Age Of Extinction, and we wait with baited breath to see who is directing it; and then we exhale, because yet again, it's Michael Bay.

Having just been to see this movie, I am not confident that I can sum up absolutely everything that is wrong with it from memory; but I am unwilling to see it again to find out so you will have to trust me. I know full well the only bits worth watching will be on YouTube the moment a DVD release happens, so I don't think I will be missing much.

Before the tear-down occurs, I will touch upon its several good points, because I believe in credit where it is due.

  • Shia LeBouef, Megan Fox, John Turturro and The Twins aren't in it.
  • Some of the soundtrack was pretty good.
  • What little 'bot action one actually saw was, on the whole, fairly well done.
  • There's several moments where Bumblebee makes a funny noise.

Now that's over with...

The plot is dire. It's just dire. It is littered with inconsistencies, poorly developed, and makes precious little sense. It seems to be an excuse to convey the characters from action scene to action scene, and it doesn't even do this particularly well. Fully half of the movie is totally unnecessary. It can be cut and nothing will be lost, the plot will remain whole. Equally bad, just shorter, which would be a plus.

The movie is about the wrong characters. It, like all of Bay's other efforts, chooses to follow several generic humans who are forcibly mixed up in the machinations of the Transformers the franchise is named after. I do mean forcibly. The term contrived was invented for moments like this. This is a criticism of both plot and focus - and that focus is, likewise, misplaced. At least half a dozen times, the Transformers in question are doing something interesting off-screen - and we are watching human beings running away. Again, and again, and again. Human beings doing things that should make no difference to the plot of a movie named Transformers, being shown to the viewer rather than the Transformers in question.

That focus is an issue. We're forced to sympathise with ultimately unlikeable and hollow characters that are all forgettable (I don't even remember their names), to the point that the film-makers can't stand the idea of us watching them actually get hurt (despite at least half-a-dozen high-velocity impacts that would shatter bones like dry twigs, let alone scratch Mark Wahlberg's chiselled face) - but they will happily make us watch the Transformers be literally torn to pieces without mercy. The Transformers that, I remind you again, the movie is named after. Humans existed in the cartoons and comics as very distinctly side characters - though RID and the Minicon trilogy had the Irritating Child Sidekick issue - and that works just fine, because the actual Transformers themselves are developed characters with personalities, empathy, urges, drives, and depth. They SHOULD be the characters the movie is about, and if you can't make them the main characters, then you SHOULDN'T be making the movie at all.

Those Transformers are another problem. The already established characters - Bumblebee and Optimus Prime - don't seem to have anything in common with their previous incarnations. Optimus veers wildly between hyper-aggressive and vaguely philosophical, like if Dr Jeckyl took a course in ethics. He utters several lines that speak of vicious intentions, that simply aren't something that he would say. Bee seems to have had a personality transplant; we're not witnessing the actions of a veteran of several wars and a capable infiltration and evasion artist, we're watching a teenager that transforms into a muscle car. Entertaining for cheap laughs, yes. Good character writing? No.

Then there's the new hires. We won't go into the Decepticon side of things (HAH! HAH! OH JESUS!), and ignoring the Dinobots as thoroughly as the film-makers seem to have, we'll just deal with the Autobots.

Hound is an overweight bearded gun-toting militaristic soldier-type who seems to veer wildly between competent and idiotic. He drops his entire compliment of guns (which is at least eight) several times. Somehow he survived the Cybertronian wars. Another surprise survivor is Crosshairs, who is a mercenary dickweed that enjoys a bit of a scrap but complains ceaselessly about "what's in it for me", leading one to wonder why he's actually an Autobot.

Then we have Drift.

Originally in the comics, Drift is a superbly competent fighter who used to be a Decepticon - back when being so was a statement of martial pride rather than being actually evil. As such, when the intent of the Decepticons became clear, he defected. He is a swordsman, as many Transformers are, and his earth-mode car form is a Japanese drift racer. Despite this, he is not a samurai... Age of Extinction, he speaks with a heavy Japanese accent, is clearly modelled after samurai armour, fights in a similar fashion, speaks in koans and haiku - and transforms into a Bugatti Veyron. Thus turning the entire character into a bad Japanese racial caricature, whilst removing the one thing from the character that was actually Japanese.

Which leads us onto racism, which this movie has plenty of. The two Chinese characters on-screen for longer than ten seconds demonstrate world-class martial arts skills. The Black American robot is the "old cantankerous black man" stereotype (who is on Death Row at one point, his words, not mine), the Black African robot is a pitiless mercenary bounty hunter with a pack of wild dogs, and of the four or so black human beings that the movie deigns it necessary to show us - one is horrifyingly stereotypical, and two more are members of an apparently evil CIA division. Needless to say all of the important fleshy good-guy characters are white folks. Though one of them is allegedly Irish.

One thing that a friend of mine I saw it with said that actually stuck with me - "I forgot it was a Transformers movie". You'd be forgiven for doing so. When the giant robots are on the screen, sometimes, they are doing things you want to see them do. Sometimes. They are on the screen for between one half and one third of the movie's run time. This isn't a horror movie in which less is more. This is an action movie with big colourful stars that transform into cars. We can take it, Bay. Show us what we paid to see.

Speaking of what we paid to see, we paid to see a movie written by a scriptwriter. I am unsure if the entity that arranged letters in a document that was later mislabelled "script" qualifies, in much the same reason as I am not sure if a goldfish can count as a brain surgeon. The script contains several lines that were actually so bad that I almost left. I actually moved to get up. The dialogue is stilted and cliche'd at best, and at worst, actually criminaly incompetent. So bad is it that I am actually surprised that old staples like Optimus Prime saying "Roll Out" even happened, as that would imply an IQ of greater than 40 being behind the fingers that wrote that script - an implication that is rubbished by 95% of the movie.

The product placement is sickeningly overt. Putting aside the fact that the Transformers franchise is here to sell toys, the advertisements for Bud Light, Beats By Dre and even My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are so in-your-face and down-your-throat that you feel somewhat dirty afterwards. I can't remember what kind of car Crosshairs transforms into, but I do remember the CEO of a multi-billion dollar technology company apparently being overjoyed by the fact that he can make endless amounts of Pill speakers. Perhaps this is because the movie is so busy trying to sell me Bud Light that they didn't have time to show me any Transformers. (Which it's meant to be about, remember.)

At the very beginning of the movie we are treated to watching the enforced extinction of the dinosaurs, which I suppose is why this movie is called Age of Extinction (that and the forthcoming imminent extinction of Transformerkind, while somehow managing to magic new Autobots out of seemingly nowhere). There is no temporal transition between 65 million years ago, and the following shot, which is the present day. Literally none. It is simply one shot followed by another. It's not that I found this hard to follow - it's just grossly poor film-making, it's literally bad technique.

The worst thing? The very worst thing? The ending. But I won't discuss that here. If you want it to be spoiled, just message me on Facebook and I'll tell you all about it.

In summary:

This movie is very, very bad, and you shouldn't watch it unless you feel you have to.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Lessons Learned, Hard Knocks Earned

So in follow up to this post right here wherein I talk about the lessons taught me by various media, I'd like to expand upon that lineup, and impart yet more wisdom.

Ghost In The Shell taught me that who we are is a terribly nebulous thing, and what we choose to do with our lives - the battles we choose to fight - sometimes matters more than winning or losing.

Paper Towns taught me to never jump to conclusions about situations or people. Especially people. Always people.

When We Were Kings taught me that there's a metagame to every game, an outside to every box, and a setting to every event. Also, determination and the ability to outlast your foe - be that foe a person or a problem - can and will lead to victory.

Transistor taught me that when the entire world is falling apart, sometimes all we have is each other. Sometimes, that's all we need.

It taught me that clowns are evil. Not just sometimes. Always.

Watch Dogs taught me that privacy is a basic human requirement, because even when you don't think you have anything to hide, you really do.

Blade Runner taught me that we can count the years all we want, but the numbers are never going to feel sufficient. That's because they are numbers. People need more than numbers to survive. Yes, even accountants. Yes, even scientists. Yes, even me.

Little Miss Sunshine taught me that "normal" is just a way for people to say "enough like me that I won't shun you".

Transformers: The Movie (1986) taught me that evil must be matter the cost.

Big Fish taught me that, sometimes, anecdotal value is more important than accuracy - and that on the day we leave this world, far more people will shed a tear for us than we really expect. It also taught me that Tim Burton can actually make a good film, despite appearances.

Reign Over Me taught me that wounds are never just physical, and that even the most broken human being is worth the trouble of putting back together again - because if one day we break, we hope tat someone else would do the same for us.

Transcendence taught me that science isn't evil. Evil is evil.

Megas XLR taught me that anyone can be a hero - even an overweight gamer nerd. Also - and I have yet to find an exception to this rule - you dig giant robots, I dig giant robots, we dig giant robots, and chicks (no offence meant!) dig giant robots. Nice.

Duck Tales taught me that being rich doesn't make you right, and being right doesn't make you rich.

Again, there's probably more to follow in the future.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Superfly Alumni

It's about fourteen years since I left Ryde High School, clutching a handful of A-level results and a misguided notion of how life would turn out for me.

I have a lot of memories of my education. Not all of them great. School shapes you in ways you don't often appreciate until later on in life. It forms how you relate to people, influences your tastes, pushes you out into the world in a specific direction.

It left me with a distinct distaste for authority, an abiding love for rock music, several scars, a few mental issues, respect for those that can make learning fun, and a deep affection for several branches of literature.

It also left me with friends.

I am spectacularly bad at staying in touch with people. This much is obvious. That doesn't mean I don't think about those folks that I shared these formative times with. With fair regularity, actually, I recall the times I enjoyed - and kind of avoid thinking about the ones I didn't.

Everyone's moved on and grown up. Everyone's grown into lives. I've always wanted the best for all of you - even the ones that bullied me, especially the ones that I in turn bullied. We're all so different, now, of that I'm sure - different in many ways, the same in others.

I just got thinking about it, on the way home from work. Got thinking about all the folks I knew so well that I didn't see at all after we all left school, or after two years, or five.'s my own fault for not staying in touch. I should have. I was kind of messed up but I'm getting better every day.

If you're reading this, and you know someone we went to school with that hasn't - would you do me a favour and pass it on to them?

Just so they'll all know that however far they go in life, and however well they do, THIS oversized nerd is cheering them on.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

It's Like A Sinewave

At the beginning of this week I felt absolutely fantastic.

There was a genuine spring in my step. Life was wonderful. I had so much hope, so much optimism - it was overflowing from me. It felt like I'd emerged from a tunnel into the bright dawn and I was running in the sunlight and not even feeling out of breath.

It could have been for a lot of reasons - the hot weather, the fact that my job is working out very nicely indeed and my finances are falling into line, looking forward to things to come - any number of things. Hell, maybe I'd hit just the right combination of sugars to balance my brain chemistry out perfectly.

I could have surfed that sunbeam all the way to the moon.

It's very hard to remember that you're on the rollercoaster at that point. You don't want to remember. This high point - this is where you want to be forever. It's where you want your life to stay. You don't want to go back to hoping a day like this comes along, if you're very lucky. You want this to be your new normal.

It never is.

Sometimes it's the tiniest thing that goes wrong - a phone call you forget to make, a bus being late, spilling spaghetti on your brand new white shirt. Sometimes it's a big thing, or at least it seems big at the time. Sometimes it's something that is actually quite big. Just sometimes it's nothing at all - like a switch being flipped by remote control, with no sign it's going to happen and no apparent stimulus.

That's the downslope, straight to the bottom of the sinewave. Wherein the optimism melts away, becomes an academic matter - you know that such-and-such is coming or so-and-so is good, but you don't feel it, not in any relevant way. When you're reminded of these facts, you have to concede the point. You weren't disputing their veracity. It just doesn't really matter. Not as much as when we were up there - up above the cloud layer, basking in the glory of the blazing sun.

This morning I found myself at the bottom of the sinewave. The rollercoaster has reached the nadir and is swinging around in amongst its own uprights and pillars, waiting for another twist or turn, or - just maybe - to find that chain that lifts it up once more.

Nobody made this happen. No event led to it. I'd like to reassure my readers of that - nothing anyone has done is the cause of my current mental state. Just a flipped switch; nothing much one can do about it. A helpless shrug, a wry smirk, and back on with our lives. I have things that need doing, be it sunny or shitty.

The key to it, as I have found, is to always remember it's a rollercoaster. Be aware at the top of your ride that there will one day be a bottom - and be twice as aware that when you hit a drop, there will one day be a climb. Prosaism can be boring, but it can also put one foot in front of the other when all else fails. Life is, as Bill Hicks put it, just a ride, and all rides have their crappy corners.

I wouldn't be anywhere near as capable of keeping that proasic view, however, were it not for my friends and the people I care about. Thank you, all. Every last one of you. I value you greatly.

(Also if you're one of my work colleagues - you totally count as my friends. The past two months have been a fantastic experience, as rewarding as it has been challenging, and frankly I wouldn't have it any other way!)

So what's the lesson to take from all of this? Basically, Blue October sum it up pretty well right here:

Jump Rope.

Keep on trucking, world.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Jingo Unchained

The forthcoming European election makes me sad. Not due to the process, not because of any involvement with the EU itself, but because of how it is starting to be framed.

Anyone notice that racism and jingoism are becoming news items again? That as the farce of how this country's finances are managed continues, and as the suffering that average people are being forced into deepens daily, we're instead treated to a barrage of news about intolerant middle-aged men? Not a single person on this planet could tell Halal meat by taste, 80% of them wouldn't know what it even means, but now Pizza Express and Subway are under fire for even daring to use the word?

That's the battleground this election is being fought on - and may be the same battleground the General Election is fought on, next year.

Several people are okay with this.

The Tory government, for example. They're loving this, because while everyone debates if immigrants are a good thing or a bad thing, while reasonable people try to quell fires lit by intolerant bigots, nobody is debating how their policies are steadily sinking this country like a stricken ship. After all, George Osborne might know nothing about economics, and Iain Duncan Smith might have a genocidal grudge against the poor, but at least neither of them are racist, right?

UKIP are okay with this too, because the more racist they come across, the more racists will vote for them - and the more they'll be in the news, for free publicity. They'll ride the wave as best they can, and stir up as much fear as possible. Employment being as low as it is, so many people will easily believe that a tide of immigrants is just waiting to snap up what is left. Fear politics is effective.

What we have to look at is actual policies, and the actual actions of the party in question, even the individual in question. Don't be swayed by the push-button racism: vote for the benefit of the country.

(It does bear mention that if you work for a living, or want to, then that vote is best spent on someone other than UKIP or the Conservatives, but then you can probably puzzle that out from their policies.)

This is just opinion of course. I could be wrong. It has to be noted that I've got a strong left-leaning bias due to not being fabulously wealthy, xenophobic or a complete fool - and if you haven't got that from reading this blog previously, you may have missed something. the name of all that is holy, it's an election, not a popularity contest. Make the choice that makes your life better.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

What I Got

So I have stuff going on right now, all kinds of stuff, here's a brief rundown.

HEADFUNK - I'm writing reviews for these lovely people. Any music you think should be given a good look, let me know. The Island's premiere site for music news an ting.

LASER LEMMING - I haven't written anything for these folks yet, but I'm working on it. Games, movies and general awesomeness.

WRITING - All kinds of fiction projects going on!

HOW WE ROLL - The YouTube channel for champions is on the way. Soon, my pretties, soon.

WORK - Yeah I totally have a job. And I'm loving it.

So if I don't blog very often...that's why. However, I'll try my best to keep it together.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sunny Hours

Summer's coming, and so I feel like I'm coming alive all over again.

It happens every summer. Even if I don't do anything over the summer, no festivals, no big gigs, none of that - it's still a time of year that appeals to me the most. The sunshine, the warmth, it being light on the way into and out of work. The fact that things actually start happening - not only your standard events but the kind of stuff that enthuses entire communities.

This summer, I'll be working, which is fine. It will make that free time all the sweeter, and being able to pay my way. I don't have any big plans - I don't need them. Sure, I'd like to get some things done here and there, but you know what? The odd barbecue, random ice creams in the baking heat and sitting outside with a beer while it's still light at 8 in the evening...that sounds great.

I've got a writing gig or two; I've got good friends; I've got a roof over my head and all the music I could ask for.

Yeah, I think a little optimism is called for.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

My Life In Film

Life is a film reel. You know, an old-school one, that comes in a big-ass can.

By which I mean it is both a contigious length, all of which comprises that life - but it is also comprised of hundreds of thousands of individual frames. Each of those frames capture a single split-second of the greater lifetime, often robbed of context and held alone, unless - of course - held against those before and after.

Sometimes what makes life really beautiful, really worthwhile, isn't that the reel is going the right way - it's the individual frames.

Today I was sat in the office. I was elbow-deep in a lengthy task, which I was quite enjoying. The folks around me where doing what they do, with all due care and dilligence.

Then the sun comes out and shines down on the car park outside; and one of my colleagues opens a window.

A breeze hits my face. Not a cold breeze - a cool one.

In that split second I was so very, very happy. I was content. My brain wasn't feeding me weird lines of crap, my body wasn't throbbing at me in any meaningful way, my joints weren't aching and my breathing was...just fine.

I was right where I wanted to be.

It doesn't happen often, but it happened in that moment, in an office in a building in an industrial estate in Westridge.

It's not always about the whole film reel. Sometimes you just need to appreciate the frame.

Friday, 28 February 2014


Sometimes you can be hit right square in the feels without even expecting it.

So imagine my surprise when, watching Tim Minchin on Netflix earlier with several other housemates, I am listening to a song - and as so often happens with songs, it mentally poleaxes me.

I daresay aforementioned housemates will be reading this and going: I didn't notice any poleaxing. (They might even get in a Polack joke.)

Well, that's because it was mental, you see. And if dealing with anxiety has taught me anything, it is how to prevent mental turmoil from seeking physical output. Well. Anxiety and other stuff.

The song is called Not Perfect. This isn't the specific performance in question, and the lyrics can be slightly altered depending on performance, obviously - but the lyrics that really hit me, like hit me in a shots fired shots fired kind of fashion, are below.

This is my brain, I live in it
It's made of love, and bad song lyrics
It's tucked away behind my eyes
Where all my fucked up thoughts can hide
Because god forbid I hurt somebody

And the weirdest thing about a mind
Is that every answer that you find
Is the basis of a brand new cliche

This is my brain, and it's fine
It's where I spend the vast majority of my time
It's not perfect
But it's mine
It's not perfect
But it's mine

And right now, just thinking about those words kind of has me in bits. Wasn't quite expecting that little ambush.

My love for songs that properly and adequately encapsulate a feeling, concept or situation is tickled by this, for the perhaps obvious reason that it's a rather succinct way to describe how I see my mental state - and hell, probably how most people would...maybe.

Perhaps it's a state of acceptance I need to find with myself. With the cogs and gears inside my skull that guide the big complex bipedal vehicle that I call Me.


It's not perfect.

But it's mine.

Friday, 14 February 2014

A New Hope - An Old Topic

 This is going to ramble; for that, I'm sorry.

Sometimes, all you need to keep going is something in the distance. Something that is worth surviving for - rather than something you are dreading happening, or the innevitable trudging toward a menial or unpalatable task or tedium.

I've found that while depression can lay me (and I presume other people) low at just about any time, it is always more likely to rear its ugly head when there is no pleasure forthcoming. When the light at the end of the tunnel is a toll booth or two weeks of intensive "why-don't-you-have-a-job" box-ticking, the light isn't quite so bright. Sometimes barely bright enough to justify approaching it at all.

There's several lights in my tunnel, right now. I'm very glad for that. Every day that it didn't look like anything was changing or getting better was an ordeal; now there's some things to look foward to, some opportunities and some potential.

The ensuing time - while in a very dark tunnel indeed - I spent a significant proportion of my days thinking, and several occasions led me to seeking refuge in music.

One of the things in music that I truly enjoy is when a feeling or concept or situation is surmised so superbly that it encapsulates the topic in question. Examples of this vary depending on topic, obviously. One of the topics often visited in music, however, is one that I find is rarely touched on in a way that resonates with me - that topic is, predictably, depression.

That said, there are several songs that really, truly speak to me on the subject; songs that I would refer people to if they wanted an insight into how it can feel, and it's a testament to the complexity of the condition that such songs are - given how wide a scope of music there truly is out there - terribly rare.

Several examples are Breaking Benjamin's Dear Agony, VNV Nation's Left Behind, Blue October's It's Just Me, Counting Crows' Black And Blue, and Nine Inch Nails' The Great Below. Some are bittersweet looks back; others are very much not.

My life makes more sense if I see it through the lens of music. As little as I like self-analysis - sometimes it is necessary, and having songs like this helps. Brave songs, songs that show the bare beating heart of the singer - having witnessed Trent Reznor and Adam Duritz singing their respective contributions, I can see the truth behind the sentiment, the source of the sound.

Just a ramble.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

One Of The Best

One of the best live performances I've ever seen - at least in video form - is this superlative demonstration of why Couting Crows are one of my favourite bands.

August And Everything After - Live At Town Hall (Fair warning, 1h17m long.)

The bare fact of the matter is that the album is superbly written and superbly performed. There's so much soul in this, so much heart, that you can't help but feel it yourself. When played like this, the album takes on a whole new context. I've found a whole new pleasure listening to entire albums as they were originally intended - and a live recording basically recreating that originally album anew is welcome when it is as good as this.

What about you folks? Do you listen to full albums beginning-to-end? What's your favourite live performance?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Them Further Feels, Bro

Having now finished Gavin Smith's War In Heaven - a book which I would ask anyone who likes a bit of military science fiction to read, and likewise the book it is a sequel to, Veteran - I must add to my previous statement:

The end of the book is superbly well written, and actually pretty much totally explains why Jakob was on the receiving end of some seriously unfair treatment. It doesn't make it okay - Morag was still being something of an unrelenting harridan - but her reaoning and her motives become crystal-clear.

Jut had to get that out there.

Go read Veteran and War In Heaven, both by Gavin Smith. I swear to god he's not paying me for this.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Them Feels, Bro

The book I am currently reading is called War In Heaven; it's by a chap named Gavin Smith, the second of a series that starts with a book called Veteran. It's scifi, hard-edged cybermilitary stuff. Imagine William Gibson getting drunk with Joe Haldeman.

Most of the characters in the book have rather obvious flaws, and those flaws are as much a part of who they are as their names. They are believable, they are integral - they're basically human beings, really. Jakob is the main character, a cybernetic veteran of a sixty-year war against an inhuman foe, previously of 5 Para and the SAS, special forces to the core. He comes across as very unlikeable at times. He has one hell of a temper, a propensity for self-destructive behaviour, and a lack of empathy for his fellow human beings - which you can probably understand, due to the reduction in his basic humanity through his cybernetic implants, his PTSD, and his being effectively a killer-for-hire for most of his life.

The thing is - he's put in some seriously shitty situations, not necessarily to do with the military side of things, but with his friends and - in particular - Morag, his girlfriend / lover / best arguer / hacker / whatever, because their relationship is pretty hard to pin down at any particular point.

It seems that for all his flaws, her biggest flaw is the inability to see past the initial hurt feeling of a perceived slight to actually understand what happened. The context of the scenario, the causality, the intentions of all involved, even the reality of what actually occurred means nothing to her in the face of the fact that she hurts, and she'll deal with that hurt her own way, thank you very much. Her own way generally tends to be lashing out at, ignoring, or otherwise demeaning Jakob.

So when he gets shot, I can deal with that. When he has his own arm removed (and is summarily beaten half to death with it), I can deal with that.

I find it harder to read about how he is essentially abandoned by her, thrown out of her life, discarded; and then as he moves on, weeks after their separation, and sleeps with someone else - when that event is brought to light, he is immediately the bad guy.

The worst thing is that when he's confronted at first with this stone wall - Morag rejecting him entirely, not happy to see him, not wanting to talk to him, preferring that he'd leave, not bothering to say goodbye when he does - that him actually LEAVING becomes one of the weapons she uses against him, to punish him for not actually cheating on her. A verbal dagger that he stabs him with repeatedly.

Like he was the bad guy for walking to the door, when she'd handed him his coat and told him to get out in the first place.

Unfortunately for Jakob he doesn't really have the means to actually communicate with her about the issue. His emotional intelligence is worse than stunted, and his on-the-job objectivity - usually rock-solid in a firefight - is thrown totally off-kilter just being near her. Which is kind of what love does, really.

It's not often that I feel like being the advocate of a main character, of actually standing up for him when he's being treated like a whipped mule - not by the enemy, not by people who dislike him, but by someone who actually claims to love him...sometimes.

Whatever patching-up occurs gets undone later when she hates him for something that he actually had no say or choice in. In fact it was something forcibly done to him that left him horribly traumatised. We won't go into that.

The thing that I am very impressed by is that despite how brutally unfair I feel the treatment of him is, despite how badly he handles it, despite how unpleasant many of the situations - social or tactical - the protagonists find themselves in...I still keep reading, because none of them are unbelievable. People are like that. Especially in high-stress situations. I can even understand why Morag acts the way she does; she came from a very hard life, and has had to change exceptionally quickly just to stay alive. That doesn't promote diplomacy, any more than a life in the SAS does.

Still. When Jakob's best friend Mudge - a war journalist who was embedded with the SAS for so long that he was almost one of them by the time their deployment was ended - tells Jakob that he spends too much time feeling sorry for himself...I can kind of understand why he might.

It's like Everybody Hates Chris, but Chris is a hard-boiled Scots special forces operator.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Hey John, What You Listening To?

So after the first week of 2014, I decided to bang up some of the music I've been listening to recently. Because hell, I can, and I think if you don't know these songs, then you should!

In no particular order:

Shinedown - Amaryllis (Amaryllis, 2012). Beautiful and soaring, the orchestration of this song makes me as happy as the vocals, which are superlative. Brent Smith's voice just...does things to me, and the message of the song is quite beautiful.

Savant - Splinter (Vario, 2012). It's bouncy as hell, seriously! Just give it a test drive and you'll find yourself all a-wiggle. Plus some sample treats in there for old-school gamers. Have a bit of a dance if you feel the urge.

Tool - Lateralus (Lateralus, 2001). I put this track on and let it take my mind elsewhere. If you don't like Tool then you won't like this - but hey, give it a try. The beautiful irregular drum line and hypnotic lyrics do it for me, at least.

Black Stone Cherry - When The Weight Comes Down (Black Stone Cherry, 2006). A stomping rock track that roars, howls and croons in equal measure. The chorus sends shivers up my spine. Where do you want to be, when all hell breaks loose?

Blue October - It's Just Me (Foiled, 2006). A hidden track, after 18th Floor Balcony, which in itself is a gorgeous song. It so eloquently describes depression and recovery that I think it should be compulsory. Poetry.

Counting Crows - Sullivan Street (August And Everything After, 1993). A song from a band renowned for superb storytelling in their songs - this is no exception. (Note: if you want an explanation as to what the song is about, check out the Live At Town Hall CD. Hearing Adam talk about it is as heartbreaking as the song itself.)

That's MY current list. What YOU listening to?