Lament for the Terrible Fictional Character, Percy What

Back in 2007, I created a character called Percy What, or as I called him “Doctor What.” He was made to be a parody of Doctor Who – the joke was that, of course, in Doctor Who people ask the question “Doctor who?” and in these stories, people would ask “Doctor…?” and he would say “What?” making them believe he was hard of hearing, since he was a very old man, but actually he was answering the question and could hear fine. That was just his surname. Also, his first name was Percy just because I thought it was a boring and generic name (which amuses me.)

When I first introduced the character, I had him as a huge, muscular, person of colour who was extremely capable – he gets killed in an intense battle against the Daleks, only to then regenerate into a feeble old white man. The idea of somebody coming out much worse after a regeneration was amusing to me. I also had a little bit where he was the successor to the real Doctor after he is finally defeated, because I always like to tie things together. He carried a Sonic Machine Gun, which he found much more useful than a Sonic Screwdriver.

I only wrote a small number of stories about him, including one about an evil alien brain called the Chavimus which made all the people around it behave in an unpleasant and aggressive ways (and it just happened to be hiding out in a certain part of Corsham.)

By all means, these stories were not well written. I was young at the time and I hadn’t really learned how to write well yet. I also hadn’t matured enough to come up with any real, substantial story ideas. There was no chance that this would ever have been published and I probably would never have revisited the original drafts to enhance them.

But the thing is, the other day, I realised that the files for these stories were missing from my writing archives. Though they were terrible, it’s sad that they’re gone. At the end of the day, they were still my creations and I think losing any piece of writing is always going to make me a little sad. So while Percy What was a terrible fictional character, he will be missed…

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Yoshi’s Story

Ever since he first appeared in Super Mario World, Yoshi had been a very popular character. Not only did he become a core part of the Super Mario games (appearing in most of the games in some capacity) but he became the star of his own sub-series of games too. The thing is though, Mario himself always seemed to be in these games as well (even if just as a baby) which I feel robbed the series of its own identity somewhat. Yoshi’s Story was Yoshi’s first adventure not to feature Mario, firmly cementing his franchise as something that could stand without Mario to draw people in (although Bowser is still in the game, as a baby.)

What makes this game quite unique, is that unlike most 2D platformers, it isn’t based around getting from point A to point B, but rather eating a certain number of fruits within a set area to proceed. This puts the emphasis on exploration, which I appreciate as there are actually some pretty nice secrets to be found in these levels.

In terms of what they actually are, you’l find an array of tropical locations, all presented in a sort of “home made” style – each level looks like it was made out of a combination of rubber, cloth and other material. It’s a nice aesthetic – although it does sometimes look a bit weird. Levels include ocean depths, spooky caves, castles, tropical island landscapes and even snowy fields. They’re a pleasure to navigate.

And it’s not just the levels that are nice, but the Yoshis themselves too. They’re adorable, more so than ever before in this game. They have very cute, baby-like voices and all of their little animations (for example, walking on the spot saying “dum dum dum”) make them so endearing. They’re so cute, in fact, that you’ll probably be very upset when you lose a life and you see a Yoshi in tears, being carried away by Bowser’s Toadies. Heartbreaking.

The main problem with Yoshi’s Story is that it is very short (and also quite easy.) You only have to win six levels to beat the “story” of the game. It makes up for it by letting you take different paths and do different levels through each play through (assuming you pick up enough collectable hearts on the way) and by giving you the extra challenge of winning by only eating melons (and none of the other fruits), which is quite tricky.

At times, I also felt like the designs of the enemies were really weird (looking like awkward mishmashes of rubbery blobs) and these bad designs honestly weakened the experience for me. The soundtrack was another thing: sometimes it was bizarre and incorporated human voices in an almost unsettling way – though I must admit that other tracks were quite good.

Overall, I suppose you could say that it was a mixed back. Yes, the game did have some very good features, but it was weaker in other ways too. Nonetheless, I think it’s something which just about anybody could enjoy. It might not be the best 2D platformer Nintendo has done, but it’s certainly not the worst either.

Rating: 8.1/10

Buy it here.

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Haiku

I’ve been reading a book of haiku recently and I’ve really been quite moved by it. So I thought I’d try my hand at it. Here are a few that I wrote myself.

Cold winter evening,
Moon shines down upon dark lake.
Warmth flows from the heart.

Summer afternoon,
Blue sky, beetle, blade of grass,
Adventure for two.

Urban adventure,
Sweltering city summer,
Budding new friendship.

Rolling open field,
Magic in conversation,
Eternal in all.

City streets alone,
Lamposts only source of light,
Down memory lane.

These all reflect a significant experience I’ve had in my life and I hope that I have been able to capture the feelings of those experiences. If the mood captures me, perhaps I’ll write some more at some point. Or maybe it will be a one off experiment – who knows?

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Life Priorities

There are a lot of things which contribute to our overall happiness. Careers are definitely one of them. Having said that, I personally think that my career only contributes, maybe, 10% to my overall satisfaction with life and it surprises me that it seems to be much greater for everybody else.

I’m quite pleased at the moment, in that I work for a charity and it’s nice to know that my work is part of something which is genuinely good. In cases like that, it’s easier to understand, but if all you’re doing is helping to raise profits for a business, I struggle to understand the importance people place on their jobs.

I mean, I can totally understand the importance of having a comfortable income. There have been times where I’ve struggled financially and it is stressful. But other than that, money is just money.

I don’t mean to sound too cynical, because it’s nice that this kind of thing makes people happy, but for me, being able to spend time with friends and have time alone to relax, are two things that are so much more valuable. I’d happily choose a life where I have to live off minimum wage, but have a very busy social life over having a high paying salary and barely ever seeing anyone.

I just don’t feel that a career (no matter how good) can give me any meaningful sense of fulfillment. My job is what I do, not who I am – but I tend to find that when people describe themselves, it’s often who they are, which is a little bit concerning…

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Asexual Perspectives by Sandra Bellamy

A lot of people aren’t even really aware that asexuality exists, so I have the utmost respect for Sandra Bellamy for creating a book specifically to help people understand it. Essentially, what she’s done is ask forty-six different asexual people to answer a set of twenty-odd questions so that we can get an insight into their lives and perspectives on things.

The results of this, I think, are fascinating.  I’ve written before about how there are not enough asexual perspectives in the media and reading this book was enormously refreshing. There are so many different types of people, with so many different outlooks, so many different backgrounds and so many different attitudes towards love and sex. One of them said something along the lines of the asexual spectrum being as diverse and as broad as the sexual spectrum and I definitely agree.

For this reason, I think it’s something that everybody should look into. It’s important to understand other people and other perspectives. Even if you feel like you’re already completely familiar with asexuality, it’s worth reading if only because the people interviewed have had some really interesting life experiences.

Although as good as it may be, the book is not without its flaws. Sandra herself answers the same questions as everybody else at the end of the book, but her answers are all a lot longer than everybody else’s and they often felt quite ramble – y. At times, she talks about the very specific type of men she finds physically attractive and about how much she hates doing housework, two things which I don’t feel really reflect much about the asexual experience. It felt like she had just splurged out her thoughts in several run on sentences without really planning her answers.

Plus, I felt at times there was a bit of anti-sexual sentiment, suggesting that non-asexuals had less meaningful romantic relationships simply because they had sex, for example. I also felt like one or two of the questions themselves got a bit boring after a while (such as, asking people what they felt the difference between sexual arousal and desire were) and could have been replaced by questions asking people about how important friendship is to them, as I know that it is particularly important to a lot of asexuals (more so than non-asexuals) in that they use them for the emotional fulfillment others get from romantic relationships. There were a lot of little niggles like this throughout.

Overall though, I am glad that I read this and I recommend it to anybody who would like to learn more about asexuality. Sandra has definitely succeeded in giving a voice to those who need one and ultimately, that’s much more important than any of the book’s pitfalls.

Rating: 8/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Bookshops

When I take my lunch breaks, the part I find the most exciting is when I’ll visit the local bookshop. Personally, I find bookshops much more exciting than other shops and I think there are several reasons for this.

First of all, as a writer, bookshops are an excellent source of inspiration. Of course, books themselves are the ultimate source of inspiration, but often I find that just reading blurbs and getting an idea of the concepts behind books will be enough to springboard me to more exciting ideas of my own.

Second of all, there’s a lot of potential in bookshops. For me, most books are quite an emotional experience (if they’re any good.) So when I walk around a bookshop and browse the books, I’m really browsing several different emotional experiences, all contained within the ink printed upon sheets of paper. No matter how amazing and moving the books I’ve already read may have been, there could just be something even better out there… that is a very exciting thought.

I also think of it like this: when I person writes a book, they’re transcribing a trail of thought. A trail of thought is a brief second in a person’s life, but through the miracle of written communication, a bookshop manages to capture these isolated moments and experiences from people from all around the world (and from through history) and it connects them all together, by placing them side by side. It’s quite amazing to thing of the many chains of events which lead to a bookshop.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that in the past I have visited bookshops with friends and it’s been a very nice shared experience. While I may not have anybody to visit them with now, there is a slight nostalgic element at play, for sure.

These are all feelings which cannot be evoked by a game shop, supermarket, toy shop or any other kind of shop and its why I’ll always love browsing a bookshop.

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WarioWare: Twisted!

When games use motion controls and other gimmicks, there’s always an element of concern going in. It will either be really intuitive and will help to enhance your overall gaming experience or it will feel forced and just make things annoying and unenjoyable. WarioWare: Twisted! is a Game Boy Advance game with a special tilt sensor fitted into the cartridge which allows you to play by tilting your console… Thankfully, it’s one of those times where the overall experience is improved.

This is the second proper Wario game to be based around microgames and for those who don’t know, let me explain the premise. You’re given very short (and often very zany) little tasks to do within a few seconds and these are called microgames. You’re given several in succession and the goal is to get the highest possible score (or to clear a set number to clear the level you’re on.) The sheer randomness of these games is quite amusing and the concept is very addictive.

While the first game used conventional controls, this one is often entirely controled by tilting (though buttons are sometimes used as well.) Let me give some examples of what you’ll be doing: one of the games has you tilting your GBA back and forth in order to flip over an upturned Koopa. One has you shaking a bottle enough that it will explode. Another has you bouncing food at the right angle so that it can get down a person’s esophagus. It’s the kind of thing which is really hard to convey in words, but the absurd visuals, excellent soundtrack and cameos from many well-known Nintendo characters make it very enjoyable.

Another bonus, for me, is that I really like Wario and the other characters. They all have wacky storylines which unfold if you can win the microgames. Wario has somehow been merged with a clock and needs to turn back. His friend Mona (owner of Mona Pizza) goes to war with rival business, Pizza Dinosaur. 9-Volt, a huge Nintendo fan, wants to introduce his friend 18-Volt to the world of Nintendo. Jimmy T. and his family want to be the coolest dancers at the disco. I shan’t mention all of them, but this is one thing I find particularly charming about WarioWare games.

Overall, it’s a fantastic game and even better than its prequel. I really cannot overstate the joy of the tilt controls – it’s like the controller is an extension of yourself and I think that’s how a game controller should feel. Since it’s made up of so many little facets, I can’t really mention everything, but I will add that I was very pleased by an endless mini-game which has you making sheep jump over a fence to help someone fall asleep. A wonderful idea. When you’ve got a game which is this enjoyable and topped off with wonderful presentation (in terms of audio and visuals) you know it’s a good one. This is probably the best Wario game.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Locked Memories in Lucid Dreams

Remember back in 2014, when I mentioned that I had started to keep a dream journal and I hoped that it would help me to achieve more lucid dreams? Well, it didn’t work. I stopped keeping my dream journal after a while, because I felt too tired first thing in the morning to write up my dreams. But in recent times, I have had a couple.

Just the other night, I was fast asleep and having a rather uninteresting dream (so uninteresting, that I don’t remember any of it.) All of a sudden, I realised it was a dream and instantly woke up. I thought to myself that it was a shame I woke up, because I could have turned it into a proper lucid dream, if I had stayed in it. So I tried my hardest to get back to sleep in the hopes of having a lucid dream.

The experience was quite incredible.  One second I was lying in bed with my eyes closed, trying hard to fall asleep, then I felt like I was falling for a split second and then I was standing in a bright and sunny field. I was impressed at myself for having fallen asleep so quickly and for having been able to create such a realistic and beautiful looking field. It was very similar to a specific field in Corsham, but not quite identical.

After a few seconds, I spotted somebody in the distance. I remembered reading that, in our dreams, any people we see will have the faces of people we know in reality. I decided to head over to test it out – I was delighted to find that the person in the distance wasn’t a stranger at all, but in fact, my friend Hayley (a good friend of many years.)

We said hello and I decided that it would be nice to see some other friends too. I then turned around and a large group of familiar faces were heading towards me. Everyone was saying hello and general chitchat started to break out.

It all seemed so real and I was very pleased to be having such a good experience of lucid dreaming. As it was all so real and so nice, I decided to try and return to an old memory of mine. It’s a memory that’s very important to me of a time when I was very happy – for various reasons, it’s not something I’ve ever told anybody about.

All of a sudden, I woke up. Not into reality, but into a bed in a horribly dingey little room. It was cold and it was dark and all of my friends were gone. It was still part of the lucid dream and I knew it. I got out of the bed and headed towards the door. I came out onto the streets of Bath – it was raining, very late and very cold. It all still felt very realistic

I realised that I had brought myself to the right sort of location, but not exactly. I was about forty minutes away from the place I wanted to be and it made me quite sad to think that my experiences were playing out again while I was forty minutes away and missing them. I decided to try and visit another memory instead.

All of a sudden, I found myself on the streets of another city. I was cold, outside by myself and in the dark in the middle of the night. I had come to the right place, again, but was about forty minutes away. Once again, I felt I was missing my experiences play out again.

Then I felt very sad, because I felt that I had missed my only opportunity to revisit these memories. I thought about how they’d never happen. It made me feel so sad that I woke up – this time, back into reality. I was still a bit sad, but coming back to reality put things back into perspective a little.

It may sound like a horrible, negative experience, but, actually, taking a step back from it, it’s all very interesting. Why does my mind behave in that way? Perhaps it’s my own way of telling myself that romanticising the past is unhealthy. Who knows? Either way, I hope I can experience another lucid dream one day.

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Customer Service Interactions

In the past, I held a customer service based job. In the name of professionalism, I shan’t divulge any information about what the business was, but I wanted to share some of my more unusual interactions with customers. Here are just a few:

Me: Hello, how can I help?
Customer: (angry tone) Basically, I’m having a lot of trouble with my order.
Me: Okay, well, just to let you know, inquiries about existing orders have to go through customer services and unfortunately, you are not through to them at the moment.
Customer: I know that! You really need to go back to customer service school, because you’re being very rude.
Me: I’m very sorry you feel that way. I did not mean to be rude. I just needed to tell you that you’ll need customer services if you want to-
Customer: C*nt. (hangs up)

Me: Could I have your name, address and telephone number, please?
Customer: No. I wouldn’t have to provide all these details if I ordered in a store, so why should I do so when buying something over the phone?
Me: I’m afraid we can’t send you anything if we don’t know who you are or where you live.

Me: Could I take your postcode please, sir?
Customer: (sigh) It’s XXX XXX.
Me: Thank you. And the first line of your address now, please.
Customer: You should already have it, I’ve given you my post code!
Me: Unfortunately, post codes indicate specific areas, but not specific houses, so you’ll still need to tell me.

Me: Could I have your customer number, please?
Customer: You’ve got a very sexy voice.
Me: Your customer number, please.
(later)
Customer: It’s a shame we can’t fool around together sometime.
Me: Is there anything else you wanted to order today?

Me: Customer services are busy at the moment, so you’ve come through to me.
Customer: Alright, well, I’ve got an ongoing complaint and I need you to look into it.
Me: Okay, well, I don’t have access to the records, but leave me your name and number and I’ll have customer services call you back tomorrow. I know I said they were busy earlier, but I’m so used to saying that. I meant to say they’re actually not in today.
Customer: So you lied to me.
Me: Well, I wouldn’t say that. I misspoke to you is how I’d put it.
Customer: Nah. You lied. You can’t back-peddle now. You know I record all of these calls?
Me: Okay. That’s perfectly fine. I do not have an issue with that.
Customer: Yeah. And I’m sending the recording to the newspapers. I’m sure they’ll be very interested to know that you lied to me so openly.
Me: Well, you are of course perfectly entitled to do that, but I don’t think the newspapers will actually be as interested as you expect them to be.
Customer: Oh, they will be very interested…
(five minutes of pointless arguing later)
Customer: I’m just mainly annoyed at you for wasting my time.
Me: With all due respect sir, I could just as easily say that you have wasted my time. You’ve been speaking about what you perceived as a lie for five minutes now.
Customer: I’m the customer. You can’t say I’m wasting time.
Me: Well, I have.
Customer: (hangs up)

Me: And could I take your date of birth, please?
Customer: What do you want next, my bloody eye colour?
Me: While I appreciate the offer, I wouldn’t have a field to put that in.

Me: Okay dokey. So, now I’m going to need your product code.
Customer: Urgh. Can you please not use that hugely irritating phrase, please?
Me: I’m sorry. Would you prefer righty-ho?

Customer: I love that beautiful smile in your voice.
Me: Oh my.

That’s enough for now, but I may write another post on this subject in the future.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

A lot of people might be put off of reading Les Misérables due to two things: the fact that it’s from the 19th century and the fact that it is one of the longest novels ever written. But I implore you: give it a chance! I’ll admit, it could be shorter, but reading it was such a moving, emotive experience (quite unlike anything else I’ve read) and I think there’s a lot to be gotten out of reading it.

For me, this was a “bus stop book.” What I mean by this, is that I would read it for ten minutes each day while I waited for the bus. Shamefully, this meant that it took me three years to read. However, I should point out, that from about the second half onward, I had grown so attached to the novel and it’s characters that I found myself reading it outside of allotted bus stop times quite often, simply because I couldn’t help myself.

So what exactly is the story? Well, it’s difficult to say much without spoiling it. There are a lot of surprises and unexpected developments which would not have been quite so effective had I known they were coming. All I’ll say is this: the story follows a man named Jean Valjean and the lives of the people he meets. Jean Valjean is a criminal and let’s just say that he experiences some inner conflict about his way of life.

The story covers about twenty-years and in that time, Jean Valjean’s life changes a lot. Understandably, this means there’s a large cast of characters, including children who grow up to be adults within that time. The fact that the novel itself is so long really helps to emphasise the passing of time and when it came to the end, it felt like the end of an era. I just sat, lost in my thoughts, for some time after I read the last page. In some ways, I wanted it never to end.

Having said that, one of the reasons that this book is so long, is that Hugo will often go off on tangents. Now, when I say “tangents” I don’t mean parts of the story that aren’t so relevant to the overall plot, but essays on moral philosophy, theology, history or whatever else he feels like talking about. Some of them are very interesting and often show that Victor Hugo was nice and progressive for his time. One of them even ends up tying the events back to his own, real life, which I found very meta.  But while some are very interesting, one, for example, is about the history of sewer systems. Yeah. They’re hit or miss.

Another of the novel’s flaws is its female characters. One of them, Éponine, is quite interesting and has a good story arc. Pretty much all of the rest of them, however, remain very underdeveloped. They may be important to Jean Valjean, but we never get to know what they’re like or what they’re thinking because the story is never really told from their perspective. It’s complicated in that, for its time, I think he was doing a good, progressive job, but there are still some attitudes which come across in the book and are rather uncomfortable by today’s standards.

But, despite it’s flaws, this was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I love the perspective that it gives us of the world – one where the suffering of one child is of the same level of significance and importance as the wars waged on the global stage. It was full of interesting characters; Javert, Bishop Myriel and Gavroche to name but a few. Most of all though, it was Jean Valjean who had the biggest impact on me and he’s a character who I shall carry in my heart forevermore.

Rating: 9.7/10

Buy it here.

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