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Sunday 31 March 2019

Didn't Mean To Make You Cry

Today, in the UK, is Mothering Sunday. (Don't worry, US friends, yours is still in May I think.)

I describe a lot of the women in my life as indomitable. I think that is sometimes a thing that is put upon people - because they are mistreated, because sexism and misogyny exists - but I'm willing to recognize superpowers where they exist.

My mother is one of those indomitable ones.

Now, one day, she is going to have an electronic device she actually checks; and that means that one day she will stumble across this blog and read it without me there to wave my hands and laugh awkwardly, so...

I can't imagine how hard it must be to be her on a daily basis.

I am ill. Like, properly ill. But she has a combination of health conditions that make me look positively healthy.

Despite that, she goes about her day like some kind of titan of industry. She is on point and on task, and knows how to get from A to B. I like to think that a certain amount of my appreciation for organisation and planning came from her guidance. No faffing about, no leaving stuff drifting in the wind. Contingencies and consideration.

She has a storehouse of patience that is truly impressive to behold - for those deserving of it. When some people say they "don't suffer fools" they often mean they don't suffer anyone. She and I may sometimes disagree on how much sympathy a specific individual deserves but she has time for almost everyone.

I was a weird kid. I was into a lot of stuff that must have driven her to absolute despair and distraction - why science fiction? Why fantasy? Why so fascinated with machines and guff? But she always tried to be interested. She always paid attention to things I liked, tried to keep up with trends, tried to remember which band I was fascinated with at any given time. She even liked some of them, which changed quite rapidly when I discovered Snoop Doggy Dogg and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

I know I can't have been the easiest son to love. To want kids so much, and a bunch of them too - and to wind up with an only son, loaded down with medical and physical problems. Who will argue with her about the DUMBEST shit, and has made even dumber decisions in his life, some of which still bite him in the ass to this day.

Despite all that she loves me without question, and will never hesitate to help me.

Like I mean, never hesitate. Like sometimes it is a problem. Like sometimes I kind of just want to be left alone but there she be.

Anyway all of this is just leading up to an excuse to tell you about a story she told me once that she might not appreciate me repeating, but how often am I going to have this chance?

Once upon a time, seriously good bands would come tour the Isle of Wight club circuit. One of those bands was Free.

This Free.

Paul Rodgers, there? Frontman? Also frontman for Bad Company. This Bad Company.

Yeah. So my mum is front row with a bunch of friends, and at one point, Paul Rodgers (who apparently played guitar at gigs with Free, despite only recording guitar with Bad Company, according to the lady herself) spins around - and these are the days before crowd barriers, so she is within literally touching distance. Which also means she is within distance for him to smack her in the side of the head with the neck of his guitar.

ACCIDENTALLY. This isn't a cancelling.

So my mum, suitably poleaxed from being caught in the temple by a guitar, drops like a sack of potatos. And he stoops to help her up, gets her back onto her feet.

"You okay!?" he shouts to her, over the sound of the band continuing to play.

"Yeah!" she says back with a big smile.

"Sorry!" he shouts.

"It's okay!" she shouts back.

"You want to get a drink after the show!?" he shouts to her.

"No thanks!" she shouts back.

And that, dear reader, is how my dad could have been Paul Rodgers but wasn't. A tale in one part.

I love you, mum. Happy Mothering Sunday.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 24 March 2019

From Despair To Where?

I am sure most people reading this are aware of the current status of the country.

It was decided back in 2016 that, following a rather... controversial referendum, we would be leaving the European Union by... well, look at that, it was meant to be next Friday. 29th March.

And then all hell broke loose.

David Cameron, who delivered the Referendum, slipped off into the shadows to retire to the French Riviera or wherever it is that he lives now. Just like I predicted he would in this blog right here. I wasn't aware at the time of the forthcoming changes to EU tax regulation, that would have made the entire situation a lot murkier - but that is neither here nor there.

We were told we definitely weren't having a general election, which of course led to us having a general election. The new pick to lead the Tory party, Remain campaigner Theresa May, demonstrated her mandate to lead by immediately losing 13 seats in the House of Commons. She realised she didn't have a good enough majority to push anything through, so she paid the DUP a billion pounds to vote the way she wanted them to. This wasn't considered bribery, for reasons I am unsure of.

Those tasked with putting together the actual, you know, mechanism for leaving the European Union without all of our contracts and agreements simultaneously ending did apparently very little for about two years. Several members of the government decided that they would far rather have no deal than anything else, while several others didn't really know what they wanted. If anyone has had to do a group project in higher education, they will understand exactly how all that went.

The European Union itself agreed to a deal that was put in front of it by the Prime Minister. Given how hostile the attitude of about a third of this country had been towards them, the equanimity offered in return was nice to see. The issue, of course, was that there was a significant gap between the deal that the Prime Minister presented to the EU and the deal that the government - even members of the Prime Minister's own party - were willing to accept. So the EU waited for us to sort out what we actually wanted, while gently reminding us of the date and of the various things that could happen if the deal wasn't actually signed.

People got angry.

The Leave campaign was found to have been run illegally, were fined £81,000 for doing so, and the result of the referendum would have been declared non-binding and forcing a re-run - if it was actually binding in the first place. Because it was strictly advisory, it didn't, and so everything was fine. So we continued with plodding toward our leave date, because of course, just because the result wasn't legally binding doesn't mean that those who could stop it would be willing to. Also the corrections to the literal lies that were told throughout the campaign process didn't have to be published anywhere, so they just stuck around in people's heads.

Nigel Farage managed to keep himself in the news headlines constantly, despite apparently doing very little. He seemed to oversee a campaign about taking power back from unelected EU politicians, while having been an elected EU politician himself for five years, and nobody that turned up to any of the events that he ran seemed to be brave enough to ask him about that.

Labour demonstrated they were a serious opposition party by not really opposing us leaving the EU very much at all. Then a whole bunch of folks who would have been happier with Tony Blair still in charge decided to go and start another party, because their constant attempts at overthrowing the actual leader of their party met with Wile E. Coyote levels of failure. Their new party wasn't so much a new political party as a new business movement that isn't properly registered as a political party, but that doesn't seem to matter much right now.

Propaganda started showing up on the tables of Wetherspoons, because their owner is basically Al Murray's Landlord character but real and less funny. Businesses started shunting their future plans and current operations into bits of the world that aren't here. James Dyson reassured us that everything would be just fine, while shuffling his production lines over to Singapore. Jacob Rees-Mogg's finance company quietly relocated, and nobody inquired as to whether or not it was a conflict of interest for a standing MP to be involved with a finance company.

People got more angry.

Days went by. Time passed. We all kept going into work, and some of us started having meetings about what might happen as of 30th March. The rest of us just hoped that nothing much would happen at all. We hoped that the economists and the lawyers and everyone else were wrong, that nothing awful would happen, and we'd just be able to keep going as we were before - just with more to complain about, and with those who we could actually blame for this mess slipping off to the Riviera Cameron-style. But you know, paying less tax, because we'd no longer be part of EU tax-dodging regulations.

Lots of votes happened in Parliament. The House of Commons threw away the Prime Minister's deal, then threw it away again, then she had to be reminded that she can't keep bringing the same thing back over and over again, and yes, that's been a thing for about four hundred years, so it probably isn't an EU conspiracy. Then Parliament said they didn't want to leave with no deal, which made all the people who don't want to pay tax very angry. Then Parliament said they would like an extension to the date, please.

Two marches ran at the same time - one in support of leaving, one in support of a second referendum. The one in support of leaving consisted of between fifty and a hundred people. The one in support of a second referendum ran to around a million. An online petition on the government's official petition website racked up 4,960,000 votes in about a week, as of the writing of this blog. Several folks have made the snide but very witty observation that they won't care until it reaches 17.4 million, the number of votes for Leave. If the petition was allowed to run as long as the campaigning time for the referendum itself, a referendum we had to all legally be made aware was happening and all legally be given access to, I doubt that would be a problem.

Which brings us to today.

Nearly three years ago, I watched the results of the referendum being totalled, and this sick feeling started knotting itself up in my stomach - because I knew that this would go badly, and it would go badly in the worst way, because that is how things work. It couldn't just go straight to hell - it would bounce down every single step in purgatory first, so we land in the brimstone with broken bones.

Most people I know wouldn't change their minds on the referendum. Most of those that would, would vote Remain now. That is a very small sample size, and is probably not representative of the country - if anything it is more indicative of the kind of people I socialise with.

I have been called a traitor, a fascist, treasonous. Not by people that actually KNOW me, obviously. By people that know my vote and why I put it where I did. The woman who started the petition - which has picked up six thousand votes in the time it took me to write four paragraphs - has received literal death threats. I am sure that there are those who voted Leave who have received similar vile treatment. Probably those who didn't vote at all, too.

There isn't really a punchline for all this. There isn't really a conclusion, which makes this a bad essay. So what I will end with, is a simple statement.

If we really shouldn't ever take back our vote - if, while having as many votes as the Prime Minister wants in parliament is considered democratic and just fine, a second referendum would be considered totally undemocratic and a betrayal of the public - then I would like to remind the world that the referendum in June 2016 was, in fact, a second referendum.

Leave won this most recent one with 52% of the vote.

The first one - held in 1975 - was won by those that wished to remain, with 67% of the vote.

I mean, that looks like a mandate to me. But then, I'm not the one driving the bus.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Part Of A Montage

I am fairly sure that everyone has seen at least one movie which is set after something really awful happens to the world.

It happens in TV shows, movies, the works; and when it happens, often, we are treated to an explanation as to why. (Sometimes we just aren't, which has a varied level of success in terms of storytelling.) Sometimes, the Why is conveyed with a minimum of exposition, and is shown to you via the storytelling in the world as it stands now, like in (picture above) 28 Days Later. Sometimes, the Why is told to you by LITERAL exposition, such as in Mad Max, when the story of what happened to everything is conveyed to the watcher by a narrator.

A more modern technique, though - something that has come about due to our increasing savvy nature with news media, being able to recognise certain tropes, and having over fifty years experience with watching how events have panned out in the news - is to cram the beginning two minutes (and half the opening credit sequence) with a jumbled montage of news clips detailing precisely how we went from "The World We Live In Right Now" to "The World In The Movie, Which Is Awful".

Here's an example - the opening to the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead.

In the movie, this has to convey a lot of information to us relatively quickly - or at least, it has to give us a sense of what is going on. We have to feel unsafe, we have to understand that social order is breaking down, and we have to have a vague idea as to what has caused this to occur.

It all flashes by, and bam. There we are, watching Max Rockatansky hurtle down the highway at 90, or seeing how someone survived the first ten minutes of a zombie outbreak, or listening to an emergency session of the UN talking about their "only possible solution".

It's a good trick. It puts us into the world, into that mindset of everything going wrong, of the entire construct being turned up on its head - without making us live through it. It gives just a taste of the barren wasteland we are about to march into, before the protagonists show up.

That's why it has to be quick, see - or it gets bleak, and we realise we don't actually want to stick around to see it get worse.

Has anyone else seen the news headlines recently?

I know, we aren't looking at the world being torn apart by a zombie apocalypse - but we are seeing a lot of shit going wrong, and a lot of stuff creeping towards going more wrong.

Of course, the problem with this is that those news headlines - the ones that are crammed into about a minute's worth of footage to show society spiralling down the toilet before the narrative solution presents itself - is that they are spread out throughout our normal, day-to-day lives, which are tiring and long things, filled with their own concerns.

To take a hop sideways, to the beginning paragraph of The Call Of Cthulhu, 1928:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

It IS hard to draw correlation, to paint an accurate picture of where the world is going, when one is living in it. We don't have information about absolutely everything that would help us make decisions or come to decent conclusions. There is a LOT of misinformation out there, too - some of it deliberate, some of it less malevolent.

Some of us, though, are on the contact edge of the bad shit that is happening.

A bout of collective amnesia descends on all those who help to contribute to xenophobia the moment something awful happens to... well, those that they are xenophobic against. They hope that, because now they are saying the right words about the awful thing that just happened, we won't remember that - actually - they were talking shit about the culture the victims belong to not so long ago.

In the montage of the world ending, we would see a three-second clip of a politician being blatantly Islamophobic like oh I don't know let's say Fraser Anning, an Australian senator who has gone on record as stating that "Islam is on a mission to take over the Western world and implement sharia law".

We would then see the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting, in which fifty innocent Muslims were murdered. The correlation would be absolutely obvious.

This isn't the beginning of a movie.

We are living this, day and night. We are seeing people being hurt and killed. We are seeing people driven into poverty, driven to starvation. We are seeing military campaigns against people just trying to live. We're seeing those responsible wave away that responsibility and do whatever they can to just keep hold of what they have, to sock away just a little more into a nice bank account, to push just a little more of their agenda before they can slink away out of the public eye.

For some of us, we feel the anxiety that the world is facing collapse soon, maybe imminently.

For some of us, the world came to a literal stop on Friday.

So how do we stop the montage running before more of us pay the price?

I won't end this blog with my usual exit spiel. It seems trite.

Just... please. Do what you can to make things better.

Sunday 10 March 2019

Navigating The News

It can be pretty hard to ascertain what is actually happening in the world on any given day. There's a reason why the news and social media alike both seem to be very overwhelming - frankly, they are designed that way. Got to keep the visibility up, or people will forget about you, right?

So it can all feel a little like this:

A certain amount of savvy is required to navigate the thousand howling voices all crying for your attention. Today I endeavour to pass onto you some of my advice, in regard to doing just that.

Things to look out for:

The headline is not the whole story.

Headlines are basically like WatchMojo videos - clickbait. They can be deliberately misleading, and will often present part of the story without context if it would prove to be more provocative or interesting. That is their entire point. So make sure that, when you see the headline, you don't immediately take that to be what is actually happening.

Have a little dig into it. Click through and read the article, if the news source is one of those that you don't object to giving clicks to - see The Daily Mail for an example of a news source that doesn't deserve your clicks. Maybe search the event in question in your search engine of choice, check out some alternative views. Which takes me neatly to my second point.

Every outlet has an angle - find multiple sources.

If you can - always, always confirm a story. Especially if it is just breaking. The need for news media to get on something the moment it starts to happen sometimes (often) overwrites the implied necessity to report accurately. Also, there are certain news organisations that have a specific agenda to push; for some of them, it will be obvious. For others, less so.

Even if a news organisation has a leaning which agrees with yours, do make sure to see how the other side are reporting. Even if half the world will know that an event has occurred, the majority will have heard about it from a different source, will have seen it from a different angle. Certain facts may only get presented by people who will benefit from them being known.

Factual reporting isn't repetition of statements. Factual reporting isn't opinion.

These two get bundled together because a lot of news stories seem to be a simple unquestioned repetition of a statement made by someone. That is effectively the same as allowing that individual to write an opinion piece and publishing it as if it is accurate reporting - unless somewhere in the article there is some degree of accuracy-checking or fact-finding.

This can often be a subtle way in which a news outlet can convey the agenda they wish to without seeming to be biased. The less obvious it is that the article is just regurgitating the opinions of the subject, the more likely it is that the subjects views align with the outlet. And of course, every news outlet also tends to have opinion pieces - it is considered good journalism to make it very obvious from the reading that it is such a thing.

News outlets and regular people alike alter the scale of a story.

The next time you see a news story stating "people are outraged", realise that they could be talking about half of the world's population, or they could be talking about six people on Twitter who have more than eighty followers each. Be wary of eyerolling at this new trend which has apparently taken over the entire world, when in actuality there's only about twenty people posting the same youtube video.

At the same time, downplaying something is a common trick - one that doesn't usually survive cross-referencing with other sources. The scale of that oil slick will probably be made obvious in one way or another, and if you take each source on balance, you will probably find your way to at least a close approximation.

We are more willing to believe news that aligns with our own personal bias.

It is a difficult thing to accept that a company that makes something you like, or a piece of media you enjoy, has done something wrong. It is also a difficult thing to accept that an individual or organisation that you dislike has done something right. That is on us. When we do our due diligence on the topic, we kind of have to put our hands up. Otherwise, we will spend our lives not caring much about facts and what actually happens, and instead just parrot opinions at each other like we are extras in Brave New World.

Examining our own built-in biases, asking why we have them - that is important to us as people. Not just in terms of understanding the news - in terms of our personal development. I'm sure most of us were unbearable dickheads at some point in our lives - imagine if we just stayed that person. Wouldn't it suck? So, don't let that happen. If your immediate response to an article is vehement repudiation because it features a movie you like or a politician you hate, take a breath, pull up a different source, and take a minute.

Don't be afraid to take a break.

Keeping up with the real-time collapse of our current society, or whatever is happening to it right now, is difficult. It's hard-wearing and anxiety-inducing. Don't do it all the time. Take time to unplug. Go do something else. Play a video game for a few hours. Watch movies. Spread your wings.

Don't be afraid to ask people you know.

Do you know people who seem to be on the pulse of things? Who seem to have a handle on what is going on? Talk to them about it. Find out their viewpoint. Hopefully you know a few people that fit in this bracket. If they are cool people, then they would rather you ask than pretend you know, and we should have gotten over our shame of not knowing a thing back in high school.

Of course, people you know and trust will have their own biases - but if they have done their due diligence, they will tell you about it. If they haven't, then their bias may well become obvious as you get to know their views on a particular topic.

I hope that this blog entry has been useful. It certainly helped me, to remind myself of my own rules and guidelines: check your sources, take a breath before you read on something you think will make you angry, and don't rely on a headline to tell you what the news is.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the world isn't actually coming to an end - but at least you will be better informed about it.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 3 March 2019

Carpenter's Trilogy

Everyone knows The Thing.

It's one of the best horror movies that has ever been made - widely acclaimed for its practical special effects, the tension in its pacing and writing, and generally brilliant performances all round. A remake of a seminal sci fi B-movie The Thing From Another World released in 1951, which in and of itself was pretty fantastic in its own way.

John Carpenter's 1982 masterstroke is one of my personal favourites, for a lot of reasons. It's a level of creepy that you can't really get out of most movies. The personal paranoia, the body horror, everything about it just makes your skin crawl. The ending, too. The ending is just... oh god. The ending.

See, it's the ending that this blog will be touching on.

Spoilers - at the end, we have our boys Childs and MacReady (played by Keith David and Kurt Russel respectively, I know, that CAST) facing each other over a stick of dynamite and a blowtorch, waiting to see if one or the other (or both of them) is actually the alien creature in disguise.

There's some theories that go round - about the fact that MacReady may have offered Childs a bottle of something undrinkable, which Childs then drinks, proving that Childs is actually the Thing - but I digress.

The fact is, we can't be sure that the Thing is dead - that one of the men froze to death and the Thing remained until discovered by another human being, and was conveyed back to civilisation. And that, as is covered in the movie, is the end of humanity in... months.

Which is why this is the first in John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy.

Carpenter is a master of the genre - even if his output somewhat dropped off toward the end of the nineties. He still directed two and a half decades worth of exceptional cinema, not all of it horror - including The Fog, Assault On Precinct 13, Escape From New York, Halloween (yes the original), Village Of The Damned, Big Trouble In Little China and They Live.

My favourites of his, though, are - as mentioned - The Thing... and the two other parts of the Apocalypse Trilogy, in which we are presented with end-of-the-world scenarios that lead us all the way up to the tipping point. The moment in which the world begins the process of ending. Beyond the last frame of which lies nothing but our own destruction.

The second of the trilogy, and held to somewhat less acclaim, is 1987's Prince Of Darkness.

This time, we take a little Satan, and we add a dash of science. In short: there's a lot of talk of particles, of tachyons, of having to prove things. And what the protagonists - a dozen college students and their teacher, and various hangers-on including Donald Pleasance as a British priest - need to prove, is that evil is real. And it is contained in... this.

Of course, things don't go swimmingly.

This movie features Alice Cooper - yes, that Alice Cooper - amongst other regulars in the Carpenter stable of actors. Dennis Dun and Victor Wong make second appearances after Big Trouble In Little China the year before.

The entire thing is shot in such a way that it starts to build tension before anything even goes wrong, before the plot starts to even coagulate. Unsettling, upsetting imagery dropped into otherwise mundane scenes. The relationships and social interactions of these normal people, thrown into stark relief, made to appear almost inconsequential compared to the task set before them.

And that task becomes increasingly sinister, not just through the weird and supernatural, but from the gathering of scientific information throughout. Carpenter uses the actual study of the phenomenon as a way to draw us into the plot, to make the devil real, before the first tragedies even start to happen.

And then the first person falls asleep, and everything goes up a notch.

The ending is a twist that I don't really want to give away, but suffice to say - it puts the idea of the plot being resolved firmly into doubt, once more creating that borderline between "the world is fine" and "the world is literally and imminently doomed". A second Apocalypse, then. This time, not alien at all, but brought about by the titular Prince of Darkness.

It didn't do too well in the box office, but then, neither did Blade Runner. It DOES have a large cult following. It is deserved. It's a great movie, and has some exceptional cinematography and sound engineering. Great from a technical perspective.

So we have had alien horror from beyond the stars, devilish horror from the pits of hell - what makes the suitable third part of this trilogy?

Let me introduce you to the Lovecraft movie you have probably never heard of - In The Mouth Of Madness, 1994. Starring Sam Neill.

A horror writer named Sutter Cane - whose work is widely held up as disturbing the reader, as capturing something truly horrible and otherworldly - has gone missing, with the manuscript of his last book. Sam Neill plays John Trent, an insurance fraud investigator, who is hired by Cane's literary agency to find that manuscript and return it, and ascertain if Sutter Cane is dead or just a weirdo shut-in.

It's easy to believe that Cane is meant to be Steven King. He's not.

Here we see more of the creeping, unsettling imagery being slipped into the scenery. Situations that are perfectly normal, appearing to be suddenly strange, for no apparent reason. Another steady build of tension, as Trent finds the apparently-fictional town of Hobb's End, a quaint New Hampshire town with a huge, dark church on its outskirts.

It is hard enough to find the town - in the end Trent and his companion Linda Styles (played by Julie Carmen) stumble across it seemingly by accident. Or by some darker design. Because once they arrive, Trent finds it very, very hard to leave. He enters the town determined that he knows what is fiction and what is reality, and the horrors and strangeness that he sees within the town makes him not so sure.

Trent finally comes face to face with Sutter Cane himself, a man now possessed of a strange, dark power. It seems that the writer's previous horror writing was unwittingly accurate, and now, his new work - his new title - is the truth. The truth about the things, waiting on the other side of reality, waiting to creep back into our world and make it their own again.

That is how you do cosmic horror.

I don't want to give away the ending, again. Suffice to say, though, it is also the beginning of the end. The top of the downward slope toward humanity's destruction.

Sam Neill's performance is stellar. I'm a big fan of face acting and we get a lot of that. The practical special effects are once more absolutely on point - a lot of creepy squamous rugous horrible things to look at and hide from. Even if the soundtrack has started to slide into hard-rocky kind of stuff that isn't necessarily totally fitting with the material, a lot of it still hits the mark.

So, class. My homework to you is this. Catch up on any or all of these movies. Preferably in the order of their release - The Thing, Prince Of Darkness, In The Mouth Of Madness. You will probably be pleasantly surprised. Or as surprised as you can, when watching a trilogy of movies that are literally about how the world ends.

And honestly the 2011 prequel to The Thing is a pretty good watch, too. Even if it isn't John Carpenter. Just please, for the love of god...

...don't watch Ghosts Of Mars.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.