Opening the Time Capsule

On this date in 2014, I decided to create a blog-based ‘time capsule‘ for myself, where I’d ask a series of questions and then answer them five years later. Well, now that five years have passed, it’s time to answer the questions asked by my younger self. So, here goes!

1. Are all the people you know now still alive? I hope so!
Thankfully, this is mostly the case, with the sad exception of one of my uncles. It’s always important to appreciate the continued existence of the people in your life.

2. Are you still alive? That would also be nice. If not, I suppose this entry was a slight waste of time.
Yes, I am. Or, at least, I think so. Another thing it’s important to appreciate: I am happy to be alive!

3. Are you still updating this blog? I love it so much now, and I’d hate to think you’d lose interest. Even if you don’t update it now, use this time capsule as an excuse to do so.
Yes! I am proud to say that I have been consistently updating it for almost eight years now. It’s so ingrained in my weekly structure that I don’t imagine I will ever stop.

4. Do you also still update your Finger Puppet Show? If not, why don’t you revive it?
Sorry, past me. It’s on an extended hiatus as I am taking ages to do the 500th strip which is a bit too over indulgent – but it will resume eventually!

5. When was the last time you saw Chloe, Dalfino, David, Egan, Mairi, Naomi, Oscar, Rory, Sophie or Stacey? If it’s been a very long time, please be sure to try and arrange something soon
Let me answer that one person at a time:

  • You saw Chloe just a couple of weeks ago and had a delightful visit to Nando’s – our friendship is as solid now as it was then… if not moreso.
  • Dalfino remains the constant fixture in life that he has been for the past fifteen years. He is eternal, like the sun.
  • David, alas, you have not seen for about four years now, though you both make the effort to keep in touch, it’s a problem of circumstance. Despite this, we still care for one another now, just as much as we did then.
  • You saw Egan a little over a year ago – he moved to Australia and it’s sad for me that he’s far away, but it’s nice that he’s expanding to new horizons and building a serious relationship with his partner Christy (who you’ve met and is very nice.)
  • Mairi, also, you have not seen for almost a year – due, merely, to the long distance nature of our friendship. Since 2014, we’ve shared many lovely experiences and I’ve visited her in Scotland a couple of times. Excitingly, you managed to find a way to collaborate with her in your current job (more on that later!)
  • Much like David, I have not seen Naomi in a long time either – alas.
  • Oscar you saw a few months ago. You don’t see or hear from him as much as you used to, which is kind of sad, but as times change so do people’s priorities. I’m sure you’ll see him again soon…
  • Rory you saw in December – for his wedding! He has moved to America now, but you hope to visit him soon… if not, he may be back in the UK before long! We were sitting at the peak of friendship back in 2014 and I continue to enjoy the view from the top of that mountain five years later.
  • Sophie was your newest friend back when you made this and I am pleased to say that, since then, your friendship has grown and she has become a real institution in your life. A highly positive influence who you last saw today! We had a delicious Nando’s.
  • It’s been over a year since we last saw Stacey. We gave her a tearful goodbye as she left to travel the world in 2017 – though a selfish part of us will always be a bit sad, it’s lovely that she’s doing such amazing things. You communicate regularly online, often with video calls and it’s very nice.

6. Also, for the people you’re not in contact with so often, are you still arranging regular meals to meet up at?
You still do your meals with old Corsham friends, yes. You’ve also done a very good job of rekindling the fires of friendship with both Ben and Hayley, who you had drifted away from slightly back in 2014. It’s nice to have them back as positive fixtures.

7. Have you had any more writing published in the last five years?
Loads. You actually worked as a freelance writer for over a year. Well done

8. How did you do at university?
Wonderfully. You got a 2:1.

9. Are there any important people in your life that I don’t know yet?
Oh, yes, there certainly are! Your Friend Square is quite a bit bigger! Let’s go over them one at a time:

  • Liam: Since writing this, you went on to become good friend’s with Chloe’s partner, Liam. In fact, you now count him as one of your very best friends. Reliable, helpful and protective, exactly what you want in a friend. Plus, he’s given you loads of great gifts over the years and now even helps manage this blog!
  • Sarah: In 2015, you get a job which is pretty good, but let down by an awful manager. While working there, you meet a lovely woman named Sarah with whom you share a number of stressful and frustrating experiences – but a friendship formed in fires like those soon becomes unbreakable when you realise you can both count on each other in times of stress. You’ve both left that job now, but still see each other regularly.
  • Edward: As part of the process of becoming very best friends with Sarah, you get introduced to her partner Edward. He has this sort of ‘grumpy’ aura (and I’m sure he won’t take offense at me saying that) but you quickly realise that the crusty exterior masks a beautiful and kindhearted soul and at this point feel just as much affection for him as you do for Sarah.
  • Amy: In 2018, you start working at WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) and sit across from a woman named Amy. At first you’re on a fixed term contract and intentionally don’t want to really make friends and then have to leave them. Eventually this got extended and you realised that this was a friendship worth investing in – and I’m glad you did! You confide in one another, support one another, make one another laugh and, also, she makes the best cupcakes you’ve ever eaten. She left WDC but you still communicate online on a near-daily basis.
  • And that’s pretty much the best of compilation of the last few years – other new and valuable friends include Kat, Alex, Sam, Sophia, Tom, Stephanie, Will, Jess, Tasha… and that’s not even everybody. You’ve made so many friends since you made this original blog post and you love them all.

10. Been anything new, Waltons-wise?
Alas, no new episodes. You did meet two cast members though… that was pretty great.

11. Are you employed? If so, what are you doing? If not, good luck!
You’re the Digital Fundraising officer at WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) a job which gives you a steady income and has made you a lot of friends. It’s nice and rewarding to work for a charity too.

12. Where do you live? Are you still at home? Have you moved to Bath? Or are you somewhere else entirely?
Still living in Corsham… Maybe you’ll move to Bath one day though.

13. Finally, I quite enjoyed this, so, why not make a capsule to open in 2024?
Good idea, past me. I’ll make it Monday’s post. Considering all the nice things I’ve had to write about in this blog post, it’s heartwarming to think about all the developments I’ll have to cover in 2024.

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

If there’s one thing I always love to see in novels, it’s well written characters who undergo a process of character development. If that’s your kind of thing too, you’re going to love Little Women.

To explain it in the most basic way possible, this book documents one year in the life of the March family (three sisters, Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy and their mother) their neighbour Laurie and his grandfather. During that time, their father, Mr. March is away fighting in the civil war and they have a number of very trying experiences.

Each of the three girls has their own strengths and weaknesses, for example, Beth is extremely kind, but also enormously shy. Amy wants to be her best self, but ends up coming across very rigid and stuck up. They all directly face their flaws and have a chance to demonstrate their capacity for growth. As they’re all written as such likeable people, it’s really nice to see them evolve.

I was also especially fond of their mother, who does a great job of teaching her daughters about life. Sometimes I felt that she went too far down the path of manufacturing situations for the sole purpose of teaching them a lesson. While this may be somewhat questionable, for me it only served to make her a more interesting character. And to be honest, her lessons were things which we as adults would do well to remember as well (mostly.)

Though the March family isn’t exactly “poor” they certainly aren’t really well off either and it’s nice to see a novel like this told from the perspective of average people. I won’t spoil the hardships that they encounter, but what’s nice is that some chapters cover the personal struggles as the girls try to fit into society, while others cover very real struggles which are the sorts of things we hope never to face. It paints a wonderfully well-rounded view on life.

Every time I expected something to happen, or I had a feeling I knew which direction the story was headed, I was wrong. It’s refreshing that the plot wasn’t so predictable. I shared the highs and the lows with these characters and was sad when the book came to an end…

Only to find, when I came to write this review, that my edition is only really half the book! It turns out that Little Women was actually published as two volumes (the second called Good Wives to distinguish it, but this was not a name used by Alcott herself) and on the one hand, I am glad that the story gets to continue – on the other, it’s a bit annoying to think I haven’t technically read it all! For the sake of the reviews on this site, I’ll be treating them as two separate books (the exact opposite of what I did for Don Quixote!)

Rating: 8.4/10

Buy it here.

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An Easy Thing to Take for Granted

When I meet a new person that I get along well with, I usually find myself thinking “I hope, one day, we’ll be old friends who go out to dinner together and confide things in one another” and the thought of properly befriending them and achieving that is one that’s really exciting and something I’m very keen to achieve.

I don’t think that with every person, of course, just the ones who I feel like I get on really well with, or the ones who I am particularly impressed by. Then, when I stop to think about why I have this perspective, it’s because I get so much joy from those types of relationships with the friends I already have known for a long time.

And the thing that’s easy to take for granted is that I have already achieved that lofty goal with several people. With my closest friends, I can remember exactly how it felt; I can remember really wanting to be able to meet them for dinners, to be able to confide in them and to have them confide in me. And I’ve achieved that. I have that amazing thing in my life. What I have is so valuable and I’m so lucky to have my friends. We all take things for granted sometimes and I like to remind myself not to do so – to remind myself that I have something that’s beyond any earthly value.

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Why I Have a Nude Photograph of One of My Very Best Friends

If somebody were to have a look through the photographs on my mobile phone, they might be surprised to find a naked photograph in there (and not a self-portrait.) Some people, mostly those who don’t know my so well, might then assume that I keep it there for some form of sexual gratification – and they’d be entirely wrong.

The real explanation is far more heartwarming: I keep it as a body-confidence resource for myself. You see, there are certain things about myself which I occasionally feel a little insecure about – I’m not going to go into the details just now, but the same features I perceive as flaws on myself, are also present on my friend’s body. This then completely neutralises any insecurity because I don’t think my friend looks ‘bad’ and so how can I perceive the same aspects as ‘flaws’ on myself? I can’t.

Since then, I’ve had a great deal more body confidence and it’s nice. It’s a shame that our culture has such taboos around nudity, as I believe that problems related to self-image and confidence would be significantly rarer, if we saw people we know naked regularly. Having said that, I totally understand it: a few years ago, I was completely disgusted by all nudity – at least now I can see that I was wrong to feel that way.

Of course, another nice aspect of this is that they trusted me enough to share it with me – which reminds me; I suppose I could also have titled this blog post “The Time I Added a Password on My Phone” because even though I’m no expert when it comes to GDPR and privacy laws, it feels like common courtesy not to leave it laying around for anybody to pry upon.

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Tracky Train

I love trains. I love puzzle games. I love Tracky Train because it merges those two things into one. Plus it’s free, which is always good.

To put it in its most basic form, in this game you lay down train tracks so that a train can safely reach its destinations. You control two characters in a handcart, who are somehow moving forward and instantly laying down track behind them – a train is driving along not far behind and you have to make a route through several environments (fields, castles, factories, beaches etc.) which avoids obstacles and brings you to passengers and stations. If you hit a wall or a dead end and the train catches up, you lose.

It’s a fun and addictive game which anybody could enjoy. Not only is it fun to play so that you can beat your high score, but the more passengers you pick up safely and bring to a station, the more money you make and the more locations and train upgrades you unlock. The fact that it is so simple makes it all the more appealing.

Another good incentive to keep playing and picking up more passengers, is that there is quite a wide variety of passengers to encounter (which are recorded as you see them), many of which are parodies of celebrities and fictional characters. Among the many characters you can pick up are a lookalike of Walter White (from Breaking Bad) in his underwear, a lookalive of Mr. Blobby, a lookalike of Clippy the Paperclip (from old versions of Microsoft Office) and even lookalikes of Jet Force Gemini characters. But it’s not just lookalikes: this game actually features the first video game appearance of Yooka from Yooka-Laylee which I find pretty exciting. There’s also a semi-official appearance of Banjo the Bear from Banjo-Kazooie, which is how I initially heard of this game, being a rabid fan of the series. As the characters in the handcart are randomly chosen passengers, this very nicely means that you are sometimes controlling Banjo and Yooka working together.

So if you’re looking for a new mobile game to play in your spare time, something which you can sink hours into easily without being pushed too aggressively towards micro-transactions, I can heavily recommend this Tracky Train.

Rating: 8.3/10

Download here.

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AMakes – for you

I’m always delighted when a friend of mine starts writing a blog, because it means that I can be really lazy and just give them a shout out instead of writing a real blog post on one of my update days because it means that I get to have an insight into their lives and interests – and today I am pleased to recommend to you a blog called AMakes.

This one’s a little different to the blogs of some of my other friends as it is a crafting blog. Written by a good friend of mine named Amy, the blog posts cover different things which she has made, how she made them and the stories behind what prompted her to make it. It’s a charming blog and I hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as I did – I’m sure those of you who are into crafting yourself will probably find that this blog can act as some form of inspiration.

Now also seems to be an appropriate time to mention that Amy makes the best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted. She hasn’t written about them on her blog yet, so I feel that it is my responsibility to do so. Words cannot quite describe the refined deliciousness that they contain – though I think that a deep, primal groan of ecstasy reflects it quite well. So if she ever adds a review section to her website, I’ll just write “gggggguuuuurrrgrggghghghghgh 5 stars” and hope that people respect my abilities as a professional food critic.

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Overreaching Character Development in Doctor Who

I really enjoyed the first season of adventures for the Thirteenth Doctor and I hope that we will, in future, be blessed with many more. One criticism I’ve seen is that the current incarnation of the character is ‘too nice’ and doesn’t have quite as much of an edge as previous Doctors, making her boring. I don’t agree with this whatsoever, as I have never found her boring and I see her character development stretching back quite far into the show’s past.

Let’s first look at the Eleventh Doctor – we could go further, but I don’t want to go back too far. He was one of the more affectionate Doctors and one of the only ones to die of old age. He lived on the same planet for a thousand years – no doubt forming bonds with hundreds or thousand of people, only to watch them all wither and die before him… if they were lucky to reach old age, that is, and not get killed by the countless invading forces, including Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and more.

At the end of all that loss, he regenerated into the Twelfth Doctor. What was noticeable about this incarnation in contrast to his previous self, was that he was much more aloof. He often clashed with Clara (who had been used to the Eleventh Doctor) due to his seeming lack of empathy. Why the change? Well, I believe that on an unconscious level, he wanted not to be so effected by loss, after experiencing so much, so he became a man who pushed others away…

Deep down the Doctor has always been a deeply loving and caring person and they will continue to do so. The Twelfth Doctor learned that being aloof was not the best choice and starting in his second season, he became much more affectionate towards Clara and realised that he should make a greater effort to reflect his care for others. I’d go so far as to say that this incarnation was the most empathetic and caring of them all, even treating old enemies Davros and the Master with a great deal of compassion.

What’s notable about the Twelfth Doctor is that he had a much harder life than a lot of his other selves – for example, he spent billions of years being tortured. That’s pretty bleak. He went through a lot of loss. The people with whom he shared the closest bonds with were Clara, River, Bill and Missy and one thing they all have in common is that they all died while with him.

At the end of his life, the Twelfth Doctor is deeply depressed. He’s approaching his regeneration, but he doesn’t want to regenerate. He just wants to die, because the pain of loss is hurting him so badly. I’d say that this is the only time we’ve seen the Doctor feeling openly suicidal – as this refusing to regenerate is essentially suicide.

After one last adventure with with his first incarnation and a recreation of Bill Potts, he decides that, yes, actually, he should allow himself to regenerate and keep on living – but not before giving a long speech about the type of person he’d like the next Doctor to be.

And she turned out to be exactly the person her predecessor wanted. No doubt, on the verge of death, the Twelfth Doctor probably had a lot of regret about having spent the earlier parts of his life as such an aloof individual – he was worried that this would all be reset and he’d lose the friendliness which he had acquired. He was worried he’d be stuck in a loop and never truly grow as a person.

But this didn’t happen. The regeneration transformed the Doctor into a much happier and optimistic person. And even if you don’t accept that the Doctor’s wishes for his next incarnation can have an effect, consider this: the Doctor was close to suicide and nearly chose to end their life. The regeneration cured what could have been a fatal case of depression, as this was essential to his survival – and regeneration is essentially a survival instinct.

So now, the Thirteenth Doctor behaves in a happier and more optimistic way than her predecessor and the reason is that this is the natural continuation of the character’s overreaching development. I love her and I love the way you can tie this all back if you want to.

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Fantasy Life

I love RPGs. I love games with a real heart at their centre. I love games with hundreds of side-quests to do. I love life sims. With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder that I love Fantasy Life, because it mixes all of these things together perfectly.

In this game, you play as a person in the world of Reveria. You make your character from scratch, with a character-creation tool which is essentially a highly advanced version of the Mii Maker. Once your character has been created, you then choose a ‘Life’ which is essentially a career path. There are twelve different options (including things like fishing, wood cutting, hunting, tailoring and more) and each one provides your character with different skills and abilities, while also opening up different side-quests.

So, for example, I chose to be a wood cutter. At first, you’re just simply cutting down generic trees, but then later you’re cutting down frozen trees on the peak of a mountain, then creepy, mythic trees in a spooky forest. Each ‘Life’ provides a very unique experience and it’s very fun to rise up through the ranks.

This feature alone would be enough to build a whole game around, in my opinion. You have the whole of Reveria (consisting of mountains, open fields, towns, beaches, forests, volcanoes, deserts and more) to explore, so expanding your abilities in a single Life while visiting new areas to gain more experience and to complete more side quests, is already a large number of hours’ worth of fun. You are also able to change Life at any time, so it doesn’t have the same risk as real life, where if you choose the wrong career path, you’ll have a hard time changing path. Working and selling resources earns you money, which you can then also use to buy houses and fill them with furniture that you’ve bought, adding a nice element of customisation.

But, on top of this really strong base, there’s a pretty fantastic storyline to follow as well. The story introduces you to loads of loveable characters with their own backstories and interests and there’s just enough intrigue to keep you wanting to move forward. I certainly didn’t feel that it was a generic fantasy RPG storyline.

Paradoxically, while I did want to progress in the story, I also wanted to take my time and explore everything (I had to find the right balance) because the game has such a nice setting that even doing nothing is quite an experience. There’s a beautiful and calming soundtrack which makes everything feeling like a nostalgic trip in your childhood and the bright and vibrant colours make everything nice to look at – like pictures in a fairy tale picture book. Something as simple as heading out to the woods and chopping down a few trees feels so therapeutic. There’s also the fact that it’s filled with lots of characters and creatures, which helps it all to feel very real.

I honestly think it’s one of the best games on the 3DS. If forced to criticise it, I suppose there were two small ways it could be improved; 1) Instead of using save points, it would have been nice to save anywhere. 2) As there is no voice acting, all dialogue is done in text boxes and this means that the longer cutscenes do start to feel every so slightly taxing. But that’s it. There’s very little wrong with it. It’s a masterpiece.

So, if you want to expand your 3DS library, I recommend Fantasy Life. It’s one of those games you’re sure to get very deeply immersed in. And on the off-chance that this huge game isn’t enough, there’s also a paid DLC called ‘Origin Island’ which expands on the story a little more and gives you a new area to explore.

I really loved it and I hope that a future game will return us to Reveria in some form, one day.

Rating: 9.4/10

Buy it here.

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It’s Better to Have Loved and Lost, Than Never to Have Loved at all

Today I’ve decided that it’s time to broach the subject of my “love life” (as they say) which, save for the odd accidental date and random proposal, I’ve never really written about before.

To be honest, beside this and some irrelevant teenage nonsense, there isn’t very much else to write about. Romance does not hold a great level of significance to me and I find all the emotional fulfillment I need from the close bonds I share with my very best friends. I have never, ever met somebody and then quickly thought to myself “oh, hey, this person could make a nice romantic partner” as that’s not how my mind works.

But there was one time, of course, or otherwise I wouldn’t have made this the subject of a blog post, would I? It would be a bit like deciding to write about cycling and then just saying ‘I have no experience of this’ – it wouldn’t make for very interesting reading, would it? So I’ve got a story to tell and one which I’ve not told many people before.

In truth, there was a time, years ago, where all the factors were in place for me to ‘fall in love’ with somebody – and it was a wonderful experience. I never told them and I never really told anybody else either (other than vague mentions to friends years later.) I was having such a nice time and feeling that I was living in a heightened version of reality, that I felt like articulating it would burst the bubble and destroy the illusion.

It was almost certainly one-sided, and that’s okay – after all, we do not choose who we fall in love with. Though we were very close and shared many very nice experiences, it ultimately had to come to an end. This was very sad indeed and there are few things which upset me quite as much.

But, as the title of this blog post says: it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. I completely agree with this statement. Those emotions were something which I didn’t think I’d ever really experience, but I’m so lucky that I did. Not only was the raw energy of it so invigorating, but it helped to illuminate every single area of my life – never had I appreciated life so much and I still feel the residual effects of that now.

How could I possibly wish that one of the most rewarding experiences of my life had never happened? Sure, it was very sad to become separated from this person, but to wish the experience had never happened because of a sad ending, is to place more importance on happiness than sadness, which I will not do.

Ultimately, I feel very fortunate to have experienced something, which I don’t think everybody does. This may sound very cynical, but I feel for a lot of people ‘love’ is just a box to be ticked on the list of life’s achievements; they get together because they’re afraid of being alone, or because they want somebody to share their experiences with, or even because they just sexually desire the person.

But for me, that’s not the case: love is an appreciation of a person’s virtues – their kindness, empathy and their consideration for others. Meeting somebody who genuinely inspires you. A respect for the integrity of their moral character – and it’s not about sharing anything. It’s not about owning or possessing. It’s about wanting the other person to achieve the highest level of happiness that’s possible for them and doing the best you can to help them do so – even if it means them being with somebody else. Because when you do love somebody, their happiness becomes more important than your own (which, I appreciate, can be unhealthy) and you will learn to become content with the fact that you get to play any kind of role in their life.

I don’t know if I’ll have this experience again in my life and it’s okay if I don’t. I am just very lucky to have once had that positive energy flowing through me, because, frankly, it was amazing.

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Communication is Key

I have a number of people with whom I am very close. There are a lot of things which are important to keeping friendships alive over a long period – kindness and empathy being two of the biggest – but ultimately I feel that communication is the most important thing for long-lasting relationships of any kind.

I always tell my friends what I think and, most often, this takes the form of complimenting and praising them. It does, however, occasionally mean that I have to raise something that I’m unhappy with. The majority of the time, there’ll be a resolution after a brief discussion. My friends also have no trouble with communicating their thoughts directly to me (or so it appears from my perspective.)

If there is ever a problem, it’s discussed, resolved and forgotten. If I speak to somebody about a problem I have which relates to them, I’ll forget about it almost as soon as I’ve discussed it with them. The case is closed and no longer worthy of any thought or discussion.

I feel like this is a normal and healthy way to manage the relationships in your life, but in recent times I’ve found that this is not as common as I thought. I trust all of my friends entirely to communicate any difficulties and if they aren’t directly telling me something, I never really worry that there’s something eating at them. I also don’t often concern myself with the thought that an ‘ignored’ message on social media really means anything.

I always like to plant the seeds for this dynamic as early as possible – let people know that I will always be open with them and encourage them to be the same with me. It may be naive, but I trust my friends to do this and it honestly saves me from a great deal of anxiety. It’s just a whole area of worry for some people that doesn’t bother me (not that it didn’t worry me back in my teenage days) but it’s an easy thing to move on from and it’s important for your general wellbeing to try and do this too.

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