In recent times, I have started to take an evening run after my evening walk. What I quite like about this is that it makes me all tired by the time I get into bed and helps me sleep much easier. It’s also nice to run around freely in the middle of the night – not only is everything peaceful and nice, but there are less people to avoid as well. This was something that always put me off the idea of running in the past – having to swerve around all the people who are just going about their days as usual.

Unfortunately, this plan wasn’t as foolproof as I thought it was. The other night I was merrily running along and I could see a man standing near the path not too far away and I could tell I’d end up going right passed him. Now, this shouldn’t really have been any kind of issue, but as you can tell by the fact that I’m writing about it in this blog, it is going to turn out to have been an issue.

As I approached him, he suddenly shouted, in possibly the loudest possible human voice “Stop!” as he stared right at me. I looked at him, I looked around, then I looked back at him and shrugged in a sort of “what are you talking about?” sort of way, but since I was running I was out of breath and not really able to articulate anything.

I thought that it was strange, but carried on my way. Then he shouted again. And again. He just wouldn’t stop. Even as I got quite far away, I could still just about hear his crazy shouting voice in the distance. Always just a single word “stop!”

So what does all of this mean? What’s the point of this story? I have no idea. It’s just a random thing which happened to me as part of the random and structure-less chain of events that make up my life.

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of Oliver Twist (it is, after all, one of the most well known novels by one of the most well known authors in history) but who really knows much about it, other than perhaps the line “Please, sir, I’d like some more.”? Well, don’t worry if that’s the extent of your knowledge – the purpose of this review is to inform you!

The story follows the life of a young orphan (that’s Oliver) who runs away from the workhouse after years of abuse which he can no longer take. Upon leaving there, his life takes many twists and turns and he encounters many memorable characters. I’d go into more detail if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of the developments in the story are quite unexpected.

The different characters Oliver crosses paths with left quite an impression on me. There’s the eternally pessimistic and grumpy old man, Mr. Grimwig, who I always found very funny. There’s the hardened criminal Bill Sikes, who is rather intimidating. Mr. Bumble, the bumbling fool whose in charge of the people at the work house and who does a good job of being the book’s comic relief – as awful as he is. But they’re not all cynical and bad people – there’s also Rose Maylie who is endlessly kind and optimistic and while she is perhaps a little too perfect, I quite like her.

Then there’s Fagin… Fagin is a character who’s quite enigmatic and mysterious. He finds stray children and ropes them into the life of crime, winning them over with his endless charm. He features heavily in a chapter I found really profound and I always quite liked him, but the problem is that he’s quite an antisemitic character. I don’t mean that Fagin has antisemitic attitudes, I mean that he is a negative Jewish stereotype and it’s unfortunate as he didn’t need to be written that way. Doing a bit of research, it seems that Charles Dickens was criticised for this at the time and felt very guilty about it – to the extent that some later editions had been edited to tone it down. So that’s something.

My favourite character, however, was a woman called Nancy who is an associate of Fagin and Bill. While she is entangled in the world of crime, she isn’t really very happy with it. She has such a great character arc and I felt that most emotionally powerful moments in the book were all related to Nancy.

Strangely, despite the title, I didn’t feel like Oliver himself was ever given that much development. Since the story is built around him, I would have liked more of an insight into his mind and personality. This was probably the book’s biggest flaw, because it meant that the parts which only featured Oliver could sometimes feel a little bland – although having said that, Dickens does sometimes flesh it out with some scathing and sarcastic social commentary, which I always appreciated. But despite the odd chapter which didn’t feel quite so engaging, I thought it was a pretty good story overall and definitely worth a try if you like classic literature.

Rating: 7.8/10

Buy it here.

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25 Million Steps

In 2011, (around the same time I started writing this blog, actually) I got myself a 3DS. I was very impressed by many of its features – in particular the fact that it had a built in pedometer. I soon discovered that 10,000 was a healthy number of steps to get in a day and so ever since I’ve tried to get that number of steps each and every day.

As of today, my 3DS has recorded 25 million steps as I’ve carried it around these last seven years and those are some pretty significant steps – in terms of quality, not just quantity. Those are the steps I took when walked into my school to get my A Level results. These are the steps I took on my first day of university – these are the steps I took on my last day of university. These are the steps I took on my first visits to: Ipswich, Wolverhampton, Plymouth, Yeovil, Birmingham, St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Felixstowe and Oxford. These were my first steps into a Nando’s – my first steps onto an aeroplane. The steps I’ve taken around the offices of eight different jobs. The steps that took me to home to seven different beds.  They’re the steps I took on a ten mile sponsored walk and the steps I’ve taken pacing back and forth at the bus stop. These are the steps which walked me through what have perhaps been the most emotionally significant years of my life.

Who knows where my next 25 million steps will take me? I really couldn’t answer that, but I can’t wait to find out. Between taking my first step and twenty-fifth millionth step, not much has remained constant – people have come and gone, I’ve started and left university, I’ve started new jobs and left them. I as a person have evolved and my priorities and needs are very different to those of my 2011 self. But I have always had my 3DS (even if it’s actually two different systems, with the memory transferred from one to the other in 2015) and I hope it will still be there when I take the fifty millionth step in what I presume will be 2025.

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Money in Relationships

As part of my everyday job, I manage Facebook Ads. While doing this, there’s something particularly strange that I have realised. I work for a charity and it’s quite common for women to tag their partners and then ask them if they can sign up to make a regular donation. In almost all cases, their partner will say no, because all charities are a scam (of course.)

It baffles me for two reasons. First of all, why do all of these women feel the need to get the approval of their partners before making a relatively minor financial commitment? Obviously, I don’t know the exact details of their situation, but just hovering the mouse over their names shows me that more often than not they have a pretty good job. If they’re earning a pretty good salary, what concern is it of their partner if they decide they want to give a small amount to charity each month?

The second thing which baffles me is that their partners never, ever encourage them to go ahead with it. Often they’ll use arguments which are objectively wrong to try and persuade them otherwise. What I can’t help but wonder is, surely someone in a healthy relationship would say “Spend your money in whatever way makes you the most happy” rather than actively trying to dissuade them from making a generous and charitable donation? And it’s weird to me that they all seem to be so anti-charity too. It’s a shame that there’s so much ignorance around the subject. Plus, while consenting adults can have have romantic relationships in anyway they want to, I can’t help but think it seems a little unhealthy that these women feel the need to run these things by their partners…

It’s a weird parttern and not something I would have expected to encounter – but I think that’s one of the joys of working with social media. It provides insights into people’s thoughts and habits and is often very interesting (at least to me.)

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Fire Emblem Fates

It was Fire Emblem: Awakening which helped to establish the Fire Emblem IP as one of Nintendo’s best and Fire Emblem Fates built on top of the previous game’s structure and made something even better. Sadly, this game didn’t seem to receive quite as much praise as its predecessor, but I definitely think it deserves just as much, if not more.

At its heart, it’s similar to the previous games in the series: it’s a turn-based tactical RPG which tells the story of a prince involved in a conflict between two kingdoms in a fantasy world containing dragons. Every unit you use is a unique character with their own story and you can improve relationships between characters (and stats) by having them fight side by side.

There are a few changes to the classic formula, however, and I feel that these my be at the heart of some people’s mixed feelings. First of all, while you can play through the game with permadeath on, it feels as though it was designed to be played in Casual Mode. Casual Mode was introduced in Awakening as an option for players who were new to the series, because it was felt that permadeath might make things too hard and stressful. I completed Awakening with permadeath on and had completed several of the other games in the series too, but Fates was so extremely difficult that I switched to Casual Mode quite early on. Even with it on, I still struggled with some levels. I can see why some people might be unhappy with this change, even though I don’t see them as an issue.

On a similar note, in previous games weapons all had a limited number of uses before they broke. This added an interesting element of resource management to the games and encouraged you to buy new and more powerful weapons as you went on and needed to replace your old ones. In Fates all weapons can be used infinitely – I didn’t really see why this needed to be changed. It meant I ended up sticking with weak weapons from the start of the game for longer than I should have. This was only a minor problem though and is nothing next to all the good new features this game provides.

And what are those features? Well, the biggest and most important is a branching storyline. In one of the earlier levels of the game, the main character is forced to decide which side of a war they will be fighting on and the story goes down a completely different path depending on if they choose one side or the other (or if they refuses to side with either.) I loved this and I felt that the characters were all so fleshed out and the story so interesting that I was more than happy to play through three times to see each version of events.

I’ll try and talk about the content of the game’s story too, although it is hard due to the fact that it contains so many unexpected twists and developments. You play as a young person called Corrin (who can be male or female, as per your choice) who must decide between fighting with the family who raised them or fighting with their biological family (who both love them immensely.) What makes the decision so hard is that each family is full of very likeable characters: on one hand there’s his adorable adopted sister and immensely protective adopted brother – on the other, two birth sisters who are enormously overwhelmed with positive emotion to be reunited (to give just a few examples.) Along with all that, there’s the mysterious and aloof singer called Azura who remains enigmatic throughout the game and is as much a main character as Corrin themselves.

It’s a game that packs some serious emotional punches and is honestly one of the best things on the 3DS. There are certain times where they go so far that you’ll be completely stunned at what you see and I think it’s all done fantastically. Moving scenes are always emphasised with an emotive soundtrack too. Since you control the growth of these characters and get to witness their blossoming relationships with each other, you will be pretty devastated if anything happens to them and in this story, nobody is safe (which kind of makes up for the fact that you likely aren’t playing with permadeath.)

One negative I would like to mention, however, is the way that this game was released. This doesn’t affect the quality of the experience, but it is still pretty frustrating. Essentially, it was released as two games – one for each side of the war, then you could get the other paths as DLC. I was very disappointed in Nintendo for this. It should have been one, all inclusive game – especially as releasing it like this means that people have to make the game’s decision before even buying it (unless you download the game, like I did.) A lot of people will want to play all of the paths, which makes the game crazily expensive (especially if you buy the smaller pieces of DLC too!) I hope one day they’ll release some kind of “definitive edition” of the game containing all of it at a reasonable price.

Aside from that one gripe, it’s actually a really good game. The characters will stay in my heart for some time and completion of the game’s harder levels was so, so satisfying. If you’re looking to get into the Fire Emblem series, it could be a great place to start.

Rating: 9.7/10

Buy Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright here.

Buy Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest here.

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Cover Novels

I usually quite enjoy cover songs – I know that they might not contain quite the same level of originality as a completely new song, but I find it really interesting to hear things re-imagined from the perspective of a different artist. Often I’ll like a cover equally if not moreso, but in a different way.

Today I found myself thinking: why is this something which only happens within the musical medium? Why don’t we get “covers” in other forms of art? Why not, for example, cover novels?

I know this probably sounds like a strange idea, but a large part of any book’s appeal is the style in which it is written. Some authors have very, very distinctive voices which alone make for strong selling points – so imagine if authors reinvented each others work from time to time.

Interestingly, this is the kind of thing which would have happened all the time with storytellers in ancient history. One person hears a story, then passes it on to somebody else – along the way adding several of their own unique touches. Of course, modern copyright laws will essentially make this sort of thing impossible in today’s world, but then are these laws stifling creativity? Are we robbing artists of the ability to build on top of each others’ work, as is the natural way of this art form?

I wouldn’t like to say definitively, because artists do absolutely need for their work to be protected by law. On the other hand, legalities will stop authors from even considering certain projects – even though they could be absolute masterpieces. I still can’t really understand how and why we live in a world where cover songs are acceptable but not other things – but I suppose it all depends on the developmental origins of each art form. Really, it was just a passing muse for me and something which, on reflection, I am disappointed does not exist in our world.

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Rise and Fall and Rise of Silent Films

I’ve not seen that many of them, but I am quite fond of silent films. Nosferatu is a film I really enjoy and it has several scenes which remain quite creepy to this day. Metropolis gives us us a weird view of the future from the perspective of the 1920s and it’s one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever watched. There’s a certain mystique to silent films that I really appreciate.

Of course, as good as silent movies can be, those with sound are much, much better. Simply hearing a person’s voice does so much more to humanise them and to help us to feel their emotions. I’m sure that in, say, the 1960s people would have said that silent films don’t have a future. How and why would they ever come back after becoming what is essentially an obsolete art form?

Well, it’s funny because silent films are back – although they’ve taken a very different form. We all know that Facebook automatically starts playing videos silently when you scroll through your newsfeed and as much as some of them may implore people to turn the volume on, most people won’t. What this means is that it’s the videos which can be enjoyed silently which are the most popular and they’ll often have little bits of text on screen – much like how a silent film would have the odd bit of text. It’s an interesting parallel I think, as content creators of today may well begin following the same conventions of silent film makers of 100 years ago.

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Doctor Who: Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible by Marc Platt

Coming fresh off the heels of the exciting finale to the four-part Timewyrm series, I was really keen to find out what the next of the Doctor Who New Adventures would be. Since the title doesn’t give anything away, all I really knew was that it was written by Marc Platt, who had worked on the TV series around the time of its original cancellation. Since I liked a lot of the ideas that he had for the show, I was keen to see what this novel would be about.

And he certainly delivered in terms of interesting ideas. We get a glimpse of Ancient Gallifreyan society, which is cool and we also find out more about the history of the Time Lords. It’s clear that Platt wanted to expand the Doctor Who Universe and he’s done a great job of that.

Too bad the novel is really boring to read. Yes, as much as I appreciate many of the ideas in this book, I just didn’t think it did well in terms of delivery. It felt like the Doctor, Ace and all the incidental characters were just running around a bunch of ruins for ages. It was interesting right at the start and then again near the end, but the middle seemed to drag on for so long without many interesting developments.

What further cemented this as not very good for me, is that all the characters seemed to have really stupid sci-fi names and it was hard to imagine them as real people and to really care for them. They weren’t unlikeable or anything like that, they were just very bland.

On the other hand, The Doctor and Ace are, of course, two exceptional characters. The problem is that The Doctor is absent for a large amount of the plot, meaning that all the focus is on Ace. Unlike earlier novels, which had given us amazing insights into Ace’s mind and life, this all felt very surface level and I didn’t feel like I knew her any better afterwards.

Because it was Doctor Who, I kept going and because it was Doctor Who there were sections which I kind of enjoyed. I don’t think this says much for the book. The main thing I like about it shouldn’t be the fact that it was connected to something bigger that I already like. I will say this about it: it told a story they’d have never been able to tell on TV at the time, which is nice. Ironically, when I looked it up, it turned out to be an unused TV idea, so who knows what to think?

It’s possible that the Cat’s Cradle story arc will pick up in later instalments (and I hope it does) but as things stand, I do not recommend this book… Not even to really dedicated fans, really.

Rating: 5.7/10

Buy it here.

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Let’s Be Friends

I really like the song “Let’s Just Be Friends” by Alex Lewis. If you’ve not heard it before, you can listen to it here and if you’re not in the mood to listen to it, essentially it’s about a man who ends up in several intimate situations with women (e.g. cuddling in bed) which he incorrectly reads as sexual, when really they’re just being especially friendly. He gets annoyed with them saying “Let’s just be friends” to him and then ultimately ends up saying it himself to a woman he finds unattractive after a drunken one night stand.

Either the song is very clever or enormously hypocritical. When I read the comments of people who enjoy listening to it, I think they obliviously have a hypocritical view on it. The fact that he ends up saying “let’s just be friends” himself makes it seem like it’s quite a clever commentary on people who complain about that phrase, but it’s hard to be sure. I try not to worry too much about the authorial intent and just enjoy the fact that it’s a nice sounding song.

What I find quite amusing is that I have been in several of the same situations as the person singing the song, but I have never thought that I was in a romantic or sexual situation. People should be less afraid to be particularly affectionate with their friends. My original plan for this blog post, in fact, was to write a parody of the song, but it actually turned out so bad that I didn’t want that to be published – hence this analysis.

Ultimately, the character in the song is somebody who does not appreciate their friendships. “I’m going to staple a sign to my head that says, ‘I have no interest in being your friend!'” and that’s a shame because friendships are actually very valuable and a source of great emotional contentment. In fact, I think the phrase “Let’s just be friend” alone reflects a lack of appreciation for friendship, because saying you are “just” friends with someone implies that it is somehow lesser, when in fact friendship is a fantastic end in itself.

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This Moment

At any given time, we’re the sum of all our experiences which lead up to this moment. I look back at the time when I was dangling over the edge of a cliff in the Welsh countryside, then later to the time when I persuaded a woman at an amusement arcade to give my friends a prize despite not having enough tickets because they worked so hard, to being told I owe my whole school year an apology for my behaviour, to hiding under the school sofas because I was ill, to an emotional leaving presentation in my sixth form, starting this blog, making new friends, creating missing cow posters, visiting Nando’s for the first time, feeling new feelings, starting a webcomic,  helping avert brownie fires, saying goodbye to very many people, arguing with corrupt business owners, meeting cast members of The Waltons, getting punched by too many people, becoming depressed at a call centre…

It’s all actually one string of events, despite these seeming so disconnected. A deterministic view says that it could never have happened any other way. Every experience, every hello, every goodbye, every tear, every smile, every Trusty Water Bottle and every friend all leading up to this moment – the culmination of my life; the culmination of so many emotions and experiences that I could never adequately capture them all in writing, even if I had a life time. And what is this moment? Oh, I’m just eating a bag of doritos. I’ve got a nice dip too. But that’s every moment. This moment will always be the sum of your life.

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