What is love?

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers. While today is typically seen as a celebration of the love between two people in a romantic relationship, there’s no reason that it can’t be enjoyed as a celebration of love in all of its forms. Some people who are not in a romantic relationship believe that they are living a life without love, but they’re wrong. Love comes from many sources and is something you must never taken for granted.

I have been very fortunate, in that my life has been filled with so much love. Although my brushes with romantic relationships have been few and far between (because they have never been that important to me), the love gained through the strong bonds of friendship has been plentiful and while friends don’t always outright say “I love you” (though I am delighted when they do) it’s often communicated through actions and gestures.

Sometimes love is writing a story together, or it’s being able to pick up where you left off after a long period without interaction. Love is knowing what the other person is going to say before they say it, or it’s just sitting back to watch a movie together. It’s sharing secrets and chatting long into the night, it’s not feeling you have to censor any part of yourself around somebody, it’s sharing one extra cupcake, or, simply, continuing to make time for one another after so many years. Love is the greatest emotion.

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Content Output

I realise that it’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog post, so o I thought it was time to give a little update. My content output has been a little lower for a while now, but I have been aiming to do at least one blog post a week. I may not have kept up with that in recent times, but that’s because I have also started doing my Finger Puppet Show again! I thought I better mention, because people who only check my blog might not have realised this. So each week, I’ll do at least one or the other and, if I have enough time, I’ll do both. I do wish I was able to write three blog posts and two comic strips a day, like I used to, but I am very busy these days and don’t have the free time. Maybe one day I’ll get back to my old levels of content output…

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Ghosts ‘n Goblins

If you like ridiculously hard and unfair ’80s games, then this will be right up your street, as they say.

It’s your standard NES game setup – you’re a knight who needs to rescue a captured princess and to do so, you need to travel through a variety of side scrolling levels. The only thing is that the number of enemies you’re bombarded with is huge and it never stops. Even the very first level will take very many tries to complete.

You play as Sir Arthur, who has to be the most pitifully weak knight who ever lived. If an enemy so much as touches him, the armour comes flying off his body, leaving him naked. If an enemy touches him a second time, he’ll be reduced to bones. He has a small little jump (which can never be used as an attack) and he can weakly throw weapons in front of him to fight. Really, he’s pathetic… but, in a way, that rather endears me to him. Despite being useless, I do rather like Sir Arthur.

And it’s not just Arthur who endears me, but all of the monsters and the world itself. Even though ghosts, zombies and half a dozen other things were always coming at me from all angles and I didn’t have adequate control over my character in order to be able to avoid them, I found the overall atmosphere to be quite charming. It’s a spooky scary world of monsters and ghosts which doesn’t take itself too seriously, so against all odds, I find myself enjoying it.

So, to clarify, the storyline is without depth or anything of interest, the controls are bad and your character is excessively weak, the difficulty levels are really high and I didn’t mention it before but the sound effects are bad and the graphics are unappealing (even for a NES game)… and yet I think of it fondly. It’s a fun and silly thing to mess around with if you have a few minutes to spare and if you love insanely hard gaming challenges, then you might just adore every second of it.

Rating: 6/10

Buy it here.

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Social Anxiety

I remember a time when I found it really difficult to engage well with people I didn’t know – especially in contexts when nobody I knew was present. I’d see characters on television shows meet new people and just casually start talking to them and think that it was pretty unrealistic. I thought it was equally as hard for everybody.

I remember finding it hard to interact with colleagues in my first few jobs and never really going on to form much of a connection with them as a consequence. Even meeting up with close friends, I would sometimes feel anxious immediately before meeting them – even though it was fine once I saw them. I didn’t speak about it that much, because I thought it was a normal response which everybody felt.

These days, none of those things apply. I look forward to seeing friends and never feel anxious about it. I’m good at talking and can have a conversation with just about anyone. Not a job goes by without gaining at least one significant friendship out of it.

Every now and then, I’ll see something on television that I saw years ago and remember how I found it unrealistic originally, only to reflect that I have since been in similar situations and been just as relaxed as the people in them. It’s a nice reminder that I am very lucky to have been able to overcome my social anxiety – primarily through regular exposure to these situations. If you feel the same, it’s not an insurmountable hurdle and you can absolutely overcome it too!

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Doctor Who: Nightshade by Mark Gatiss

Continuing my journey through the Doctor Who New Adventures series of books, I came to Mark Gatiss’s Nightshade – a book which, as well as being a new adventure for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, also serves as a pleasant homage to the classic Quatermass serials of the 1950s. Plus, it’s set at Christmastime, which is a nice bonus.

The story introduces a man named Edmund Trevithick, who used to star as a famous TV character called Professor Nightshade, who investigated alien matters. He’s now retired and living in a care home, but before long he has a frightening encounter which is eerily reminiscent of the things on his show. The entity that the Doctor, Ace, Trevithick and everyone else encounters is quite a creepy one and it was certainly reminiscent of the kinds of things which would appear in Quatermass stories.

What was quite noticeable to me is that the Doctor is especially dark and brooding in this story – moreso than I have seen him portrayed before. He finds himself thinking about all his old companions and feeling very sad about their absence. He even starts to wonder if he actually achieves anything in his travels. This was an interesting portrayal and one I rather liked – though I did feel that he was unjustifiably mean to Ace. In fact, I’d go so far as to say his behaviour was downright toxic and that I’d have thought the events of this novel would have irreparably damaged their relationship… It’s pretty tense.

It wasn’t just the Doctor’s mood which was sombre though – the whole story was quite bleak. A lot of innocent people die during it and, not only that, they die after experiencing severe emotional torment – the reason being that an entity is taking on the appearance of people who have died, then visiting their loved ones and killing them too. It’s pretty horrible and as the side characters were often well developed, I found their deaths pretty sad.

But if you like slightly more serious Doctor Who, then this is a book you’ll probably enjoy. It’s fairlywell self-contained (as long as you know the Doctor’s past in broad terms) so don’t worry about needing too much foreknowledge. Definitely one of my favourite New Adventures so far.

Rating: 8.6/10

Buy it here.

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2010 – 2019: My First Decade of Adult Life

I can remember where I was on New Year’s Eve 2009. My very dear friend Egan had invited a few people round to see in the New Year in his caravan. A nice enough invitation, but I was a grumpy teenager and I always got annoyed with alcohol-based social interactions and everyone there was just going there to get drunk. I know there’s a picture from the night of me staring into space while two people hold a beer bottle to my mouth. After a few hours I got bored and decided to head home – which was probably pretty rude of me, because it wasn’t even midnight yet. I then went home and saw in the new year playing The Legend of Zelda. Good game.

If I were in that same situation today, I’d probably stay longer. It’s strange to me that I wasted an opportunity to spend time with valued friends. But what’s interesting is that I didn’t really see that New Year’s Eve as anything particularly important – however, if I had known everything that the 2010s would bring me, I’d have been out of my mind with excitement for all the things which lay ahead.

It’s hard to know where to begin when summarising the past decade, because it contains the majority of my most significant life experiences. Let’s start with what is most important to me and what has always been most important to me: friendship. In 2010, I had only a very small circle of close friends and because I already had them, I rarely felt the need to make new friends and was always reluctant to meet new people. Ten years later and I’m somebody who is regularly told that they have an unusually large number of friends. In 2013, my friend Tulin told me that I was missing out because of this attitude, after I petulantly told her that I didn’t want to go somewhere to meet new people, because I already had enough friends. I thought about it for a long time and I realised I had been wrong. A small circle of friends had just lead to me feeling sad and lonely whenever they had to go away. Now I’m glad to have a large circle of friends; with each relationship significant, meaningful and irreplaceable to me.

This decade has also been productive in other ways and I’m quite proud of many of the achievements I’ve made this year. I successfully completed the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in both 2010 and 2017. I was pretty pleased with my A Level results in 2011, which allowed me to go to Bath Spa University – graduating in 2014 with good results. My career started in 2010 with a job as a dinner lady and by now I’m doing a pretty good PR job – which I’m glad about, but my career has always been secondary to my personal life. Oh, also, I learned how to drive. And blocked by my local MP for telling people about her appalling voting history. Oh my – and most excitingly, my favourite author Earl Hamner (creator of The Waltons) offered to buy me dinner should I ever be in his part of the world. I never was and he died, which is sad, but at least I got the offer!

Along with my first job and first published writing, there were many other ‘firsts’ this decade: my first visit to Nando’s, first visit to Scotland, first time on a plane, first time attending a wedding, first time going to a baby shower, first e-book on a Kindle (a big step for me, a lover of printed books), first time meeting internet friends in person, first time meeting actors from The Waltons and Doctor Who, first time drinking tea, first time drinking coffee and probably a whole bunch of other things too.

Something that needs its own paragraph is the fact that this is the decade in which I finally moved to Bath – just six months ago, in fact. I’ve wanted to do this very badly for at least eight years and even before then, it was something I imagined I would do eventually. I was walking along after a swim this summer, when my friend Sophie texted me saying she spotted a really nice and affordable place in Bath and wondered if I’d like to live there with her. Two weeks later, I was moving in! Sophie is a dear friend of six years and a few of my friends advised me that living with a friend was a bad idea and that the friendship would ultimately be damaged – thankfully, they seem to have been wrong. I think that living together has actually made us closer and it’s a very cosy and comfortable living situation – I am delighted.

So that’s the 2010s. This blog post has been all about pretty big and significant things, but it’s the small moments and experiences which are probably the most valuable. Tulin and I putting up fake Missing Cow posters on the university campus, Dalfino, Christian and I waiting three hours for the bill in a restaurant, trying wasabi sauce for the first time in a London park with Mairi, joining Chloe and Liam for a murder mystery, my first all you can eat restaurant with Ben, dancing to Motown music with Sarah and Edward, leading a bunch of people in a night club by doing a Donkey Kong dance, gorging myself on Amy’s delicious cupcakes, watching an Anthony Nanson performance with David, binge watching Assassination Classroom with Rhino Water, strolling along a secluded beach with Rory, having a wonderful time with everyone at Hayley’s wedding, enjoying every episode of Oscar’s phenomenal Pro-Gamer series, expanding my board game horizons with Alex and Sam, keeping drunken Egan safe after nightclub shenanigans, a day at the London aquarium with Sophie, having a glass of wine which was actually nice with Stephanie, exploring a shop of old clothing with Kat and Leo, having fun making silly facial expressions with my colleagues as we dealt with difficult customers in a call centre – oh my, I must stop there and not because there’s nothing more to mention, but because this paragraph is already too big and I could go on for ages. Sorry to anyone I didn’t mention; it doesn’t mean you’re any less important.

Thank you, everybody. Comparing the me of today with the me at the start of 2010, I can see that I’ve gained so much – in every possible way. I can only wonder about where I might be in 2030, but right now life feels almost like a fanfiction, with everything happening just as I always wanted and while there will imevitably be hard times again at some point, I know that they will soon pass.

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Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon

When I saw the first few screen shots of Pokémon Sun & Moon, I wasn’t particularly excited. Though I wouldn’t say that Pokémon X & Y were bad games, I felt that for me the enthusiasm for Pokémon may be fading – after all, they all generally follow the same structure and I thought that perhaps having played so many, the formula was just something I’d played too many times to enjoy quite as much any more.

I put off playing Sun & Moon for a while, but eventually decided to get it anyway. And you know what? I was pretty pleased with it. I felt that it was quite a significant upgrade over its predecessor and full of lots of fresh and new ideas.

Every Pokémon game leading up to this one has had you catching and training Pokémon to defeat eight Pokémon Gyms to collect badges and then proceed to challenge the Elite Four to become a Pokémon Champion. In Sun & Moon, for the first time, there are no Pokémon Gyms and, instead, you must undergo various trials and defeating a boss. These trails provide some nice variety and I always enjoyed the boss battles at the end of them – they were quite different to what I was used to from the series.

The trials are actually an aspect of the setting, which is something else I’d like to talk about. This game is set in the Alola region of the Pokémon World, which is their version of Hawaii. Instead of one big world, the game is broken up into a chain of smaller islands – I didn’t think that I would like this, but actually I loved it, because each one was such a lovely place to explore. With the calming music playing, you really feel like you’re in a tropical paradise. I found it quite relaxing to run about doing small tasks, simply because they’re created such a nice atmosphere. I’d go so far as to call it the most beautiful Pokémon region I’ve seen so far – golden sands, splashing waves, seaside towns, oh my!

The story is pretty fantastic as well. As always, there’s an evil team who are causing trouble for you as you try to make your way onwards with your quest, but the team in this one (Team Skull) are used in a very interesting way. Instead of a group of radicals trying to change the world, Team Skull are just a bunch of stupid thugs, making them quite comical, but their function in the story is pretty clever. It’s hard to say much, but I’d describe the story as a thrilling sci-fi adventure. The only thing I will say against it, is that there is an awful lot of dialogue, which of course all comes in the form of text boxes – it didn’t bother me too much, but I know some people who were definitely annoyed by it.

As always, there was a whole bunch of new Pokémon introduced. My favourite of these was probably Mimikyu – a ghostly Pikachu doll who’s jealous of Pikachu’s popularity. I had a Mimikyu in my main team I loved it so much. While I always choose the Water Type starter Pokémon (which this time gives you a chain of lovely seal Pokémon) the Fire Type starter eventually becomes the muscular wrestling cat, Incineroar, who has become pretty popular (thanks, in part, to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate). There are also some really cool and mysterious new Pokémon called Ultra Beasts, which left quite an impression on me, but I can’t really talk about them without spoiling anything. Finally, there are now Alolan forms of several Generation 1 Pokémon, giving them cool new redesigns, my favourite being Dugtrio, who now has three heads of glorious golden hair.

Another new feature is the addition of Z Moves, which are special, super powerful moves which can only be used once per battle and are accompanied with a very fancy battle animation. I kind of liked these and they certainly got me out of the odd scrape, but I didn’t think their inclusion was that interesting. They also seem to have come in place of Mega Evolutions, which were oddly absent from the game, despite being introduced in the previous one.

Still, I do think this is a step in the right direction for the series as my interesting in it was certainly refreshed. It could have been another simple game following the same formula we’d seen so many times before, which would have been fine for newcomers, but boring for fans, but I feel they made something fresh and I’m glad of it. I hope that they will be able to continue this trend in future.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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Short Hair, Long Confidence

After wearing my hair long for the past six years, I recently had it shaved off for charity. I am pretty pleased to have done so, because I was able to raise over £170 for Cancer Research UK. It’s also been a fairly interesting experience for me.

I was somewhat nervous about doing it, because I am quite fond of having long hair and it was such a drastic change. But despite mild reservations, the change hasn’t bothered me at all. In fact, the majority of people have been telling me how good it looks and how much it suits me, which is nice. One person commented that I have a very fortunately shaped head, which is a pleasant discovery.

I also feel that it is quite a confidence boost. It’s possible that I am imagining it, but I feel that people are actually taking me more seriously without my old long hair. I don’t really have any tangible evidence, but working in an office with a large number of people and I feel like the people I don’t really know are taking more time to interact with me, or to make friendly little comments. Do people respect short/bald hair more than long hair – even subconsciously? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but it certainly feels like they do. Either way, I like the experience of shaving my head and it offers good reassurance for me, should I ever go bald naturally.

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The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Right from the beginning of this book, you know something bad is going to happen. You don’t know what that bad thing is, but you know the characters are all giving their legal testimony. Then, throughout most of the novel, the tension keeps building and building and you find yourself thinking about all the absolutely terrible things that could happen to the characters – all of whom are very interesting and likeable. I’d describe it as a definitive page turner.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot for fear of giving too much away and reducing the tension as you read through it, but essentially what happens is that a man encounters a strange woman in white out on the streets on night – soon after he gets a job creating art in the household of a rich family and finds that in that house is a woman who looks almost identical to the woman in white. What follows is the most intriguing storyline, full of twists and turns which take you in directions you’d have never imagined.

My two favourite characters were Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco. For as much as I do love ninteenth century literature, I have to admit that it can sometimes contain troublesome depictions of women. But that is not the case here. Marian Halcombe is probably a better developed and more interesting character than the book’s actual hero, Walter Hartright. She’s intelligent, pragmatic and to the point – probably one of the greatest literary heroes of that century. The section of the novel told from her perspective was definitely my favourite. Count Fosco, on the other hand, is a mysterious and unsettling character – he has a lot of jovial quirks, but you always have the impression that they’re there to hide something sinister. I won’t say whether or not my suspicions were correct, but he was a fascinating character, to say the least.

What I also admired about this book is that it highlighted that marriage as an institution, was not fair on women. It’s a very progressive book which highlights legitimate social issues and portrays abusive relationships in an eerily realistic light. Things are so intense that after one particular chapter, I was completely stunned; so shocked by what had happened, because I had been so deeply invested in the narrative.

It does have its weaknesses for sure, such as protagonist Walter Hartright being a bit of a generic hero and Laura Glyde (a very central character) never really getting properly developed, but these issues are small and take nothing away from the overall thrill of this novel. So if you’re looking for your next ride on an emotional rollercoaster, this might just be it…

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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Fictional Character Hall of Fame: John-Boy Walton

  • Name: John-Boy Walton
  • Origin: The Homecoming: A Christmas Story
  • Media: Television
  • Debut: 1971

When watching television, reading books, playing video games, or consuming fiction via any other avenue, I always tend to latch onto certain characters; characters who I feel embody and represent certain values that I hold in high esteem. This has encouraged me to start a new series of posts on my blog, the Fictional Character Hall of Fame. And what better place to start than with John-Boy Walton?

People who know me will know that I find any opportunity I can to make references to popular 1970s TV show, The Waltons – references which they don’t get and don’t even realise until I explain them. One of the biggest reasons that I love the show much is because of its main character, John-Boy.

In its pilot movie, The Homecoming, John-Boy is a fifteen year old boy who wants to be a writer – but he’s embarrassed about that and he keeps it a secret. Throughout the course of the show, we see him grow and develop as he goes to college, becomes a journalist and eventually even a published novelist. It’s quite a journey that we get to share with him.

I first started to get into The Waltons when I was fifteen and as I myself am a writer, I found him very relatable in a lot of ways. But it wasn’t just that I related to him, I actively inspired to be like him. He was endlessly optimistic and passionate about writing and literature in all of its forms. I always love hearing him talk about the authors he admires and it always inspires me to want to write and read more.

He goes through all of the experiences that every young writer faces. He has the highs and the lows, the confidences and the insecurities. We see him sharing his early work with his English teacher after school, getting upset about criticisms from more experienced writers who read his work, feeling ecstatic when he first gets some of his work published. These are all experiences I’ve had too – there were times I felt excited to find myself going through the same things as John-Boy and times when I feel nostalgic when episodes remind me of things which happened earlier in my writing career.

It’s not just that he’s a writer, either. John-Boy stands for a great deal of the things I care very much for: integrity and authenticity in journalism, accepting people of all different creeds and backgrounds and doing whatever you can to help those in need. Whenever he encounters prejudice or injustice, he stands up for right and gives an impassioned (but not aggressive) speech and I can’t help but smile and nod whenever he does.

Of course, I’m mainly talking about the character as portrayed by Richard Thomas (my favourite interpretation), but there is something to be said for his later recasting as Robert Wightman. When John-Boy returned with a new actor, we got a new view of the character – someone who was much more world weary and a lot less self-assured. His passion isn’t gone, but he’s much more withdrawn and he struggles to find success with his writing, unlike his younger self. As sad as it is to see John-Boy weakened by his horrible experiences in the Second World War, these later appearances further develop the character – we see him try and fail and it’s assuring to see that even a hero like John-Boy goes through rough times.

So that’s why John-Boy Walton is the first inductee in my Fictional Character Hall of Fame. I feel it’s very fitting that he should be the first, considering the impact this character has had on my life. Look forward to further entries in future – I certainly look forward to writing them.

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