Ethics by Aristotle (translated by J. A. K. Thomson)

Aristotle was the student of Plato, who was the student of Socrates and I feel that the knowledge and wisdom had really refined itself by the time it got to Aristotle. By all means, they all have a lot of beliefs which seem kind of strange to me and are likely to seem strange to any twenty-first century person – but I feel as though Aristotle’s are the most level headed and there was a lot of interesting stuff in this book.

The core principle of Aristotle’s ethics is that to do the right thing, one must find the “Golden Mean.” What this means, is that a person’s temperament (or response to any given situation) can become a vice either due to an excess of certain qualities, or a deficiency. So, for example, one person might flee from danger in cowardice, another might fling themselves foolhardily into danger and the Golden Mean response will be to remain calm and reduce the threat to yourself and others. Or a person might be really selfish and never do anything for anyone, while another will be selfless to the point of self-destruction – but the Golden Mean would be to be selfless, but to be aware of your limits in the process.

Most of the book is spent illustrating how the Golden Mean applies to many different cases and while it can be interesting at times, I did also think that some of it was a bit… obvious. But perhaps that’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Perhaps these concepts would have seemed more mind blowing over two thousand years ago. Some of his points I didn’t quite like either; for example, he claims that someone doesn’t have full responsibility for actions committed under the influence of lust, as they aren’t thinking clearly. Whether intended or not, this makes him sound like a bit of a rape apologist. Though it’s understandable considering the time, Aristotle’s ethics and his way of talking about self-harm and self-love really fail to take a person’s mental health into consideration in any way that is properly reflective of how mental health actually works.

The fact that this was written two thousand years ago does show throughout – sometimes in very interesting ways. He refers to ‘the gods’ many times without even the shadow of a doubt about their existence and he’ll make references to contemporaries to make points and, according to the foot notes, the identity of some of the people he refers to has been long forgotten – which I find fascinating. Their only legacy in the modern world is a passing reference in a work by somebody else. It’s also nice to see his polite rebuttal of Plato – his arguments against the Form of the Good were agreeable, as he argues ethics need to adapt based on circumstances, rather than being absolute.

The biggest flaw is the fact that this is very dry. I found that if I read for more than five or ten minutes, it all stopped making sense to me. Perhaps that says more about me than the book. Thankfully, it’s divided into several easy to digest little sections (about a page or so in length) and I ended up reading one of these a day. I don’t know if I can recommend this book to the general reader, but if you’re passionate about the ancient Greeks or moral philosophy, then you may enjoy it.

Rating: 6.7/10

Buy it here.

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Jodie Whittaker’s Brilliant Thirteenth Doctor

Yesterday, Jodie Whittaker’s first series in Doctor Who came to an end. Some people love her, some people hate her (just like every other Doctor) and as a rabid fan of the entire Doctor Who universe, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share my perspective.

To put it simply, I fall into the group of people that love her. As a concept, I never had an issue with the Doctor regenerating into a female body. It makes the character more interesting, knowing that their sex can change during regeneration and I like that it confirms my reading of the character as one who is genderless. Having said that, when they first announced that the Thirteenth Doctor would be female, I did have some concerns; mainly, that it would be handled and written really badly. After all, they did once write a female Doctor for a one-off alternate universe audio adventure and she gave up adventuring and became an alcoholic Sainsbury’s employee… so it can be done badly.

Thankfully, my concerns were completely ungrounded. The Doctor regenerated into a woman without skipping a beat. I was worried that they were going to make a huge deal about it and then have stupid jokes “oh, what are these things on my chest!?” but instead, she takes it in her stride – as a member of a sex-changing race would do. Her gender was only really an issue in an historical episode where she wasn’t taken seriously at all, causing her much frustrating and creating an interesting new dynamic.

I was also worried because I really, really liked Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. For a long time, the Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor was my favourite, but the Twelfth managed to dethrone him. What I enjoyed about him was that he was a slightly darker Doctor (at least at first) who grew to realise that he shouldn’t doubt himself and that it was okay for him to express his emotions. He had a really great character arc and I hope that he’ll be remembered as one of the greats. Coming after that, I thought any Doctor might be a disappointment.

Thankfully, I was not disappointed in the slightest. The Twelfth Doctor, especially towards the end, had a lot of unhappiness in him. He spoke a lot about how had kept losing people and even how he wanted his life to end. It made for some really engaging and emotional viewing – but the Thirteenth Doctor is almost the opposite of that. She’s possibly the most upbeat and optimistic of the Doctors. Not only did this make for a refreshing change (and how many main characters, in all modern media, struggle with a lot of inner emotional conflict?) but I think that it works well in the greater, overall narrative of Doctor Who. The Twelfth Doctor nearly chose to end his life, rather than to regenerate, so as a survival instinct, he regenerated into a person who a happier perspective on the world.

The criticism that I see aimed at this series most often, is that Doctor Who is too “politically correct” now. In general, I think this term is tossed around far too often, but I will admit there are times where it applies. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird was recently removed from a school curriculum for containing offensive, racial language. In my mind, “political correctness” is the desire to censor things in order to appease people across the political spectrum – often at the expense of ignoring that certain issues and historical facts exist. And let’s be honest, if To Kill a Mockingbird were written today, some people would accuse it of being ‘too PC.’

So, I would absolutely not say that this criticism applies to this series of Doctor Who. They tackle social issues that exist within today’s world and highlight several socially significant historical events too. It’s thought provoking and much better than when they would completely ignore these issues in previous historical episodes (which, I would argue, is much more ‘politically correct.’) There was a greater sense of seriousness and integrity throughout all of the episodes and that is something I have been craving for some time now.

I’ll admit that one of her three companions, Yaz, is a little bit underdeveloped, but she’s still likeable and I expect that we’ll get to know her over the next series. The relationship between the other two, Ryan and Graham, was fantastic and I really enjoyed their presence on board the TARDIS. They’re very different to the companions we’ve had before. And it’s not just them – everything is different and it works really well. In order to survive as long as it has, Doctor Who needs to keep changing like this.

So I hope this era of the show lasts a long time, because I am very happy. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Donkey Kong Country (Game Boy Colour)

I’ve played many different Donkey Kong Country games throughout the years and I’ve played many different versions of those games. Sadly, I feel as though this is, by far, the worst Donkey Kong Country experience of them all – and I include the Donkey Kong Land games in that. Ultimately, it is a remake of the original Donkey Kong Country and so it retains some of its qualities, meaning it’s not all bad. I’d recommend you read my original review first, then I’ll cover the changes in this version here. In the name of positivity, let’s start with its strengths:

Good differences:

  • Though, as a Game Boy Colour game, it is graphically and audible inferior to the SNES original in a technical sense, for me it was nice to see the whole game reimagined through the lens of the GBC limitations.
  • There’s a brand new level in the final world called Necky Nutmare. I will never not be happy with new Donkey Kong Country levels.
  • A new mini-game called Funky’s Fishing is included. In it, you ride on Enguarde as you try to catch fish out of the ocean. There’s a timer that goes down constantly, but each new catch gets more time added on, so you can keep going as much as possible. Weirdly, DK was given his voice from Donkey Kong 64 for this and so says “cool” (but in a horribly, horribly distorted way) all the time.
  • There are also a selection of Coconut Gun themed levels, which have you shooting targets to achieve certain tasks. These are probably the best new thing in this version of the game. My favourite was kind of like a remake of Manhole, but with Donkey Kong characters. Sadly, I got stuck with these as one of them was not colour blind-friendly.
  • The game automatically saves all the time now, instead of needing to visit Candy Kong to do so. Visiting her now gives you a little bonus game instead – most of which are fine, but highly inconsequential.

Bad differences:

  • Donkey and Diddy don’t appear on-screen at the same time anymore, so it can be harder to remember if you still have them both or not.
  • Opening an Animal Crate now transforms you into that Animal Buddy. If you get hit, they disappear and you turn back into a Kong with no way to get them back.
  • Now, the biggest the biggest problem: the controls are bad. It might just be because I have so much experience of playing the original iterations, but the timing of everything felt off. I ended up dying again and again because of this. The jumping physics have changed and are inferior – often when I felt I should have bounced off an enemy’s head, I landed right in front of it, got hit and died. Other issues stem from not being able to see so far ahead of you anymore. I often got stuck for a long time on levels I knew I could normally win easily. It’s almost impressive that they managed to take one of my all-time favourite games and make it a chore to play.

So, while the Donkey Kong Country charm is still in there (just about) this game’s flaws heavily outweigh it.

Rating: 5.7/10

Buy it here.

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Nando’s

This is a subject I’m surprised I haven’t written about in any great detail before. Nando’s. My very favourite restaurant since summer 2012. It holds a great deal of sentimentality for me. Plus the food is pretty darn delicious.

On Friday night, I found myself wandering alone in a city which I am not hugely familiar with. I’d spent a great deal of time sitting down on trains that day, so I was keen to get up and stretch my legs, rather than just sitting around in a hotel.

With Christmas coming in just a few weeks, there were Christmas lights up everywhere – though in contrast to their warm and comforting glow, it was a very chilly evening indeed. But, in a way, the bite of winter helps me to better appreciate the Christmassy sentiment of the lights.

What was especially significant about those lights was the fact that they looked identical to the Christmas lights of Bath. Many of my most sentimental and cherished festive memories are of times spent in Bath around Christmas. But it wasn’t a case of simple heartwarming nostalgia – it was kind of bittersweet. Many of the people I shared those memories with now live very far, prohibiting similar experiences from happening again, and others who are currently near, will not be so for long. Indeed, last Christmas I did very few of my usual traditions.

Eventually, I came to a Nando’s. It was already 9:10pm at the time, so I was concerned that they might be closing soon. Thankfully, they were still open for over an hour, so there was more than enough time for me to order the Nando’s meal I have every time I visit.

After placing my order, I was sat at a table next to the window, giving me a clear view of the Christmas lights I’d been appreciating a little earlier. Now, at least, I was feeling a little warmer. I was surprised by how dark it was in there, but I felt that the lack of light actually helped to create a very nice atmosphere and also helped to further pronounce the lights outside.

Though I was alone in a restaurant I’d never been to, far away from home in the middle of the night, there was still a sense of familiarity and comfort that Nando’s provided. Because despite never having been in that specific place before, the sight sounds, smells and tastes within Nando’s are so evocative of those happy times.

I felt pretty content, really, because it felt as though I were surrounded by the ghostly presence of every person I’d been to Nando’s with before (and don’t worry, none of them are actually dead.) Looking back I realised I’d been to Nando’s with thirty-two good friends and acquaintances – Egan, Dalfino, Stacey, Rob, Belinda, Oscar, Chloe, Sophie, Mairi, Rory, Liam, Christopher, Sarah, Sarah, Greg, Beth, Elle, Edward, Hayley, Tasha, Will, Ben, Gareth, Kayleigh, Alex, Sam, Rini, Suzie, Sophia, Stefanie, Alice and George. And with all these people in my heart, how could I ever truly be alone?

After leaving Nando’s, I wandered the streets a little more – taking lots of photographs of the lights as I went and keeping all those people and times close to the surface of my ocean of memories.

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Marked for Life by Paul Magrs

In the introduction to this book, Paul Magrs jokingly describes himself as the creator of the Queer Working Class Magic Realist genre. It was a good start, because it certainly piqued my interest and now that I’ve read the whole thing, I can safely say that it’s very hard to comfortably categorise this as anything else.

Essentially, this book gives us a look into the lives of a group of everyday people – except, of course, like all everyday people, they’re actually quite extraordinary once you look in any detail. There’s Mark, the main character, a man who has tattoos across every inch of his body (hence the fantastic pun in the title) and his wife Sam – I wouldn’t say they’re unhappily married, but it’s definitely lukewarm at best. Added to the mix is their daughter Sally, Sam’s mother Peggy, Peggy’s partner Iris, a policeman named Bob and Mark’s ex-lover/best friend, Tony.

The story is built around Sam inviting Iris and Peggy to spend Christmas with her and Mark, which is significant because she’d struggled to accept that her mother had entered a same-sex relationship and cut off contact with her a a result – but this was an attempt to heal old wounds. I know that’s quite basic, but this novel’s biggest strength is the fact that its characters are all very clearly defined and their interactions with one another are highly interesting. Need I say that drama ensues?

At the centre of it all, you have Mark – someone who’s judged as a ‘weirdo’ for having so many tattoos, but who is probably the most down to earth of them all. He’s empathetic and caring – in contrast to his wife, Sam, who came across as very self-centered and passive aggressive. Then there’s Tony, who remains in the shadows for much of the story (all we see of him are his letters to Mark) and who I found rather enigmatic and even menacing – a puppet master, of sorts. My personal favourite was Iris – a mysterious character who makes some hugely outlandish claims about herself and her past. I’m aware that she has gone on to be the star of many other stories and even to play a significant role in the Doctor Who universe, which I look forward to discovering. It’s easy to see why she was so popular.

There are a few supernatural elements in the book, which might seem out of place to some, in a novel which is otherwise very realistic, but I feel like their blended in perfectly. Magrs has somehow been able to seamlessly slip from family politics to the otherworldly without skipping a beat – it’s very impressive. It’s also rather incidental in that the supernatural elements are just there and not essential to the story. It’s an unusual approach, but it works.

It’s a refreshing novel for giving us perspectives we don’t often see in fiction. I can’t think of any other story with an elderly lesbian couple in it, can you? But these people exist and they have stories to be told – and I applaud Magrs for doing so. Every person in this book feels real and it was a pleasure to be intertwined in their lives and their histories for a time. If you’re looking for a good LGBT novel, then give this a try!

Rating: 8.7/10

Buy it here.

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Fortune Cookie

A couple of weeks ago, I was out for dinner with a group of good friends in Corsham. We visited a Chinese restaurant called Imperial Garden – very fancy place, with delicious food and a good atmosphere. I ate a vegetarian duck – which I hope indicated that it was a meat alternative and not just a description of the duck’s diet.

Anyway, after finishing off the main course, we were presented with the dessert menu. I love dessert. The restaurant experience doesn’t feel quite complete to me unless I have one. But, I do have a lot of expenses this month, so using all of the will power that I could muster, I declined to have one when the staff returned. I wished that I could have had something called a chocolate cube, but, I supposed, it was not to be. My friends were surprised at my restraint.

I did have a small consolation, however. The staff then brought in fortune cookies for everyone and, oh my, was mine delicious. Sweet and wafery. The fortune it gave me was “An old wish will come true.” I pondered on which of my many old wishes might finally come true. Would I be contacted by the exams board to tell me that, seven years later, they’ve noticed an administrative error and I did get an A in A Level English Language after all?

“So, what dessert would you have gone for if you ordered one?” asked one of my friends.

“Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind,” I said. “It would have been the delicious chocolate cube.”

The conversation then continued on to other subjects for a while, until the waiter was walking past once again.

“Oi, mate,” said my friend. “Get us a chocolate cube, please.”

“Oh my,” I said, “so now my old wish has come true!”

And sure enough, it was just as exciting and delicious as I imagined it would be. What a magical experience.

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Super Mario 64 DS

Back in 2004, when I first heard about Super Mario 64 DS, I was amazed. It felt like I was living in the future. The fact that a portable console now have the power to play a fully 3D adventure was almost unfathomable to me. It made me so excited to get a Nintendo DS and when I did and I played this, I was addicted. I was very deeply immersed in this game – much more, in fact, than I was in the original Super Mario 64. Though as this is a remake, I suggest that you read my earlier review first. Anyway, let me go over both the good and the bad changes that this version of the game makes.

Good Changes:

  • The graphics have been improved and every character and creature now fits the standard level of quality associated with Super Mario character designs. No more really blocky or weird looking characters.
  • Luigi, Wario and Yoshi are all available as unlockable playable characters with a role in the story. This is awesome. Every character is unique and I especially enjoyed playing as both Luigi and Wario.
  • There are several new levels sprinkled throughout the game. One drawing from Super Mario Sunshine, one from Luigi’s Mansion and one even has a returning boss from Paper Mario! Very cool references and throwbacks.
  • The existing levels have had some new stars introduced – although some of them are, admittedly, at the expense of one of the originals. These tend to be the less exciting ones, however.
  • There’s a selection of touch screen-based mini-games to be unlocked – many of them quite fun. These include quickly sorting Bob-ombs based on colour, drawing trampolines for falling Marios and spotting faces hidden in crowds.
  • There’s also a simple, but enjoyable, multiplayer mode where you fight other players over stars in certain levels.

Bad Changes:

  • This game was designed to be played with a + shaped D-pad, while the original was made to be played with a control stick. This means the original controls slightly better – but only slightly. This isn’t the game-breaking change I often see it made out to be.
  • The powers of the Flying Cap, the Metal Cap and the Invisibility Cap are now divided between the characters – rather than just having Mario able to do them all. I wish all the characters could have done them all. They have enough other abilities to make them unique.

As you can see, the changes are mostly for the best and the negative ones are relatively minor. Personally, I think that this is one of the best games on the DS. On my first playthorough, combing through the game and getting 100% was really satisfying and picking it up now, it’s still very fun! For a long time, I considered it the definitive 3D Super Mario experience – though as of 2018, that has changed…

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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Fire Safety

I’m back! You may have noticed a lack of posts last week and there’s a reason for that – and it’s a little more exciting than me being too tired or busy to write anything. Although before you get your interests piqued, there is a strong emphasis on the words “a little” before “more exciting.”

On Monday evening, when I returned home from work, I plugged in my laptop’s charger so that I could use it. Unfortunately, the light did not turn on on my laptop and it seemed the charger was not working. I thought that maybe it wasn’t plugged in properly, so I took hold of the cable to look a little more closely – then I heard a fizzing sound and saw that part of the wire was on fire.

I dropped it, since it was near my hand, and it fell on the floor. I took a tentative look at it, concerned that that little fire may have spread, but instead I just saw the wire laying severed – each end smoking peacefully. I’ve had a few laptops over the years and a few more laptop chargers, but I’ve never known anything like this to happen.

Naturally, I ordered a replacement right away. When it arrived, it didn’t actually fit my laptop despite saying it would online, so I thought about sending it back, but then decided against it when I saw how pathetic the packaging was – this clearly wasn’t created by a business with many customers. They probably needed that £10 more than me. So then I ordered another one and now here we are.

I sometimes have weeks where the ideas for these blog posts don’t come so readily, but ironically I had loads of ideas last week. But it doesn’t matter, now that I have a new charger I can get back on track and continue to provide you with what I hope you will regard as top notch internet content.

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No Shave November

I don’t like facial hair. Well, no, that’s too broad a statement. Let me rephrase that: I don’t like facial hair growing on my face – on anyone else’s face, sure, that’s fine, but I think it looks as good on me as it does on most babies. I’m very envious of those who do not grow it, because mine seems to grow at about a hundred miles an hour – not literally, thank goodness, because that would be a living hell for anyone and, maybe, everyone. But it does seem excessively fast.

With this in mind, I’d like to mention that I am going to do No Shave November this year. This will be the first time in my life that I’ve grown out my facial hair beyond the level of just being stubble, which I am sure will be interesting to some, as I’ve been encouraged to grow it out by a few people before. I’ve even been told that it might make me look handsome – who knows? So, if you want to give money to charity because I’ve decided not to shave for a month, click here! That sounds like a bit of a non-sequitur… but do it anyway.

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 7 by Yusei Matsui

Volume 6 ended with the cliffhanger of looming exams and Volume 7 starts with those exams taking place. Once again, these are represented as epic battles between the students and large monsters. Though I generally don’t find exam storylines to be as exciting as other, I do have to admit that this is a clever way of portraying the in a visual medium.

However, once the exams are all wrapped up, the action moves to a tropical island resort. Here the students plan out the perfect assassination – something which could they’re sure could never go wrong. I really appreciated this change of setting as keeps the story nice and fresh (rather than just always being in the classroom.)

I have to say, this volume does just about everything right. There’s a lot of comedy and affability from Koro-sensei, but also a lot of high-stakes drama. I really enjoyed the big attempt on Koro-sensei and the consequences of that (I won’t spoil anything) and by the end, things are much more serious than they have ever been in any volume up to this point. It’s hard to stop reading. But at the same time, some of the moments in this are some of the funniest so far. There’s a good mix.

So, if you’ve read up through the first six volumes and are wondering whether or not to get the next, definitely do it. This is such a good instalment and I regret not instantly starting to read the following volume when I finished it. I’m reading something else now, which I’ll force myself to finish first. It’s by no means bad, but Assassination Classroom is just in this sublime realm of its own.

Rating: 9.8/10

Buy it here.

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