Mysteries of the World

With a global pandemic on, I’m not going out and doing things quite as often as I did before. This hasn’t made me bored, because I have plenty of books and video games to keep me occupied, though it has given me a strange craving for mysterious stories from around the world. So over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking up videos on various mysteries, ranging from everything from cults, to aliens, to ghosts to conspiracy theories. I’m a cynical person and these aren’t the sorts of things I readily believe in, but every now and then, it’s nice to suspend my disbelief and imagine that the blurry footage online is 100% genuine. Lots of the YouTubers I’ve been watching tend to be fairly cynical too and it’s just as enjoyable watching the methods they use to debunk things – although every now and then, strange things happen which nobody has a clear answer for.

Anyway, as I’ve been enjoying their content recently, I thought I’d recommend a few YouTubers who cover these subjects. The following are a few of my favourites:

  • Top 5s: This YouTube channel provides a real wealth of content. The videos tend to be a compilation of five different mysteries. The content ranges from obviously fake clips with a brief analysis to really in-depth discussions of real-life disappearances and all of them are treated with the same seriousness. Whatever the subject matter, I’ve enjoyed every video because the narrator has such a nice and calming voice.
  • Nexpo: The videos on this channel are based more on mysteries from around the internet – strange stories from forums, weird websites and so forth. This channel dedicates more time to individual mysteries and what I especially like about it is the fact that the creator of these videos actively gets involved with the investigations by contacting people and organisations involved.
  • Blameitonjorge: This channel has a stronger focus on popular culture than the other ones, so it includes strange things related to TV shows and movies, though it does cover things on the internet in a similar way to Nexpo. These videos are also more in-depth and I appreciate the level of detail.

Be warned (before you watch anything from them) that all of them do cover real life murders and disappearances sometimes. This can be pretty harrowing, so be prepared before you watch. I tend to avoid these kinds of things, but once accidentally saw a clip through Top5s which was footage of some teenagers joking around on a boat as it sank. They died hours later. It really upset me, so I do try to avoid the mysteries related to the deaths of real people. Anyway, I hope you will enjoy these recommendations – these channels have given me hours of good content!

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The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

This novel is the holocaust as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s as harrowing as I’m sure you are imagining it to be. Thankfully, it’s entirely fictional, but it does a good job of highlighting the very real and unnecessary evils which were committed in Nazi Germany.

The main character, Bruno, is a young boy whose father is a high ranking Nazi who gets promoted to a position in Auschwitz, causing the whole family move to a new home not far from the death camp. Bruno is completely ignorant about what’s happening to Jewish people in his country and he ends up making a friend named Shmuel, who lives in the camp on the opposite side of the fence to him.

One of the most disturbing things about this book, is the way that it’s very easy to get caught up in Bruno’s perspective. He’s just a regular kid. All his worries in life boil down to him not getting on with his sister, him missing his old friends and him feeling bored with nothing to do in his new home. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re really a light-hearted novel about a child, only for a horrible reminder of the broader setting to suddenly rear its ugly head.

This isn’t always done well, however. Bruno is unable to pronounce ‘Auschwitz’ so he always calls it ‘Out With’. Similarly, he can’t pronounce ‘F├╝hrer’ so he ends up saying ‘Fury’. I don’t quite know exactly why this was done. It could have been to disguise the true setting in order for the reader to slowly realise as they go along, but in my opinion it’s pretty obvious from the start. Having said that, full disclaimer, I did already know because I saw the film several years ago, but I feel like I would have figured it out based on all the clues.

Some people have also taken issue with some of its historical inaccuracies. For example, things would not have been so lax as to allow for Shmuel to sit at the fence and make friends with someone outside. Let alone, to climb under it and have fun outside of the camp every now and then. Boyne argues that this was artistic licence used to show the horrors of the holocaust (which this novel certainly does not shy away from), while others have said that by not using the real words and by adding in these inaccuracies, it’s unhelpful to children who may be reading and learning about the holocaust for the first time and might acquire misconceptions.

I think these are fair and valid criticisms, though I also don’t think that they took anything away from my own personal reading. The friendship the grows between Bruno and Shmuel is beautiful and touching and it’s downright heart-breaking to see the cold hard realities of Nazi Germany come crashing down around them. Bruno was occasionally irritating (because of his ignorance), but Shmuel is nothing but a pure soul throughout and you’ll find yourself wishing you could save him from the horrific historic context.

So I’m happy to recommend this to people, so long as they keep in mind that it may not be the most accurate piece of holocaust literature. You also need to brace yourself because it is very bleak and I think some people may find it too upsetting… but then, on the other hand, it’s important to be upset in the process of remembering atrocities which must never be forgotten.

Rating: 8/10

Buy it here.

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Top 10 Things to Look Forward to as Lockdown Eases

This is it! The lockdown is finally being eased. In these happy and glorious times, I thought it would be nice to write a blog post on all of the things we can look forward to doing once again as life finally gets back to normal! So below are my picks for the top ten things to look forward to as lockdown eases.

10. Invading the personal space of strangers

Why We Hate It When People Invade Our Space | Psychology Today

Keeping two metres away from peopled sucked. I’m sure we all missed randomly touching strangers, brushing our hand against their faces, looking into their eyes and seeing the fear. Thank goodness we can do that again. Personal space no longer exists. And have you heard of inappropriate touching? That just means it’s ‘in’ the realms of what is appropriate. Boom. Get out there.

9. Coughing in each others’ mouths

Having to cover your mouth and not go out if you have a cough is ridiculous. How were we ever supposed to build up an immune system? Thankfully, it is now safe for us to cough into one another’s mouths once again. Recommended by most doctors, this is a method referred to as ‘Nature’s Vaccine’ why inject a little bit of the illness along with autism poison at the doctor’s, when you can just cough in each other’s mouths and become immune to each others’ illnesses? I can’t wait to get out and start doing it.

8. Never having to wash your hands ever again

Hand, Fingers, Skin, Texture, Person, Dirty, Touch

Washing your hands is bad for you. The water dries up your skin and you never get to build up an immunity to any of the germs in the world. Now that we finally don’t have to wash our hands, we can get back to living like real people. Can you believe we had to spend twenty seconds washing our hands when all this started? Add all that time up and the human race has probably lost a good four hundred years in which they could have cured cancer and done lots of other good stuff too. Now we can finally get back on track.

7. Immunity from all illnesses and disease

Man Under Waterfall, Waterfall, Strong, Water

You made it through this, didn’t you? The biggest health scare of our time. This turned out to be a lot of fuss about nothing. Next time you get ill, there’s no need to go to the doctor, because you’ll be fine. If you didn’t catch coronavirus, it’s obviously because your superior genetics made you immune and if you’re immune to the most dangerous illness in the world, you are immune to everything!

6. Destroying the Earth via Climate Change

Environmental, Pollution, Environment, Responsibility

Bit of a controversial one here, but Climate Change is a natural process and while we were in lockdown the effects started to be reversed ever so slightly. This can’t be good because, as you know, if something is natural, it’s good, so why reverse it? Think about the dinosaurs. I’m sure they made loads of fuss about the meteorite, but that was fine in the end because they just evolved into humans and now look at us? We’re better than them, they couldn’t even talk! So when Climate Change destroys the Earth, we’ll just evolve into something better. I’m hoping we finally have the power to turn invisible. Or to fly. These are the things so-called environmentalists are robbing you of.

5. Not going outside, but being pleased you have the choice

Adult, Sofa, Man, Cat, Pet, Couch, Coffee, Indoors

I’m an indoorsy person. I never go outside. Ever. But you know what got my heckles up? Not being allowed to do it. It got me so mad, that even though we technically were only allowed out once a day, I went out like sixteen or seventeen times, just to make a point. I am not a prisoner. I will go wherever I please. Now that I won that right back for myself, I’ll be spending all of my time in my favourite place: right at home. I’m even going to start having groceries home delivered so I don’t have to go to the shops.

4. Sharing syringe needles for recreational drug use

Injecting, Medical, Shot, Veins, Syringe, Junkie, Drugs

I mean, heroin is expensive enough as it is! Why should I have to fork out to buy loads of needles anyway? With the pandemic over, I can just get back to using the one needle. I’ve always been a humanitarian, so on Saturday nights I like to invite in about ten to twenty homeless people round for a bit of heroin. We sit in a circle and pass my only syringe around. I can’t wait to get that tradition started again.

3. Going to the polling station to vote Conservative on voting day

Boris Johnson to visit Scotland in bid to 'save the Union ...

Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for Boris Johnson and his friends in the Conservative Party, we’d still be in lockdown. In fact, the global pandemic would probably still be a thing. I bet nobody’s going to thank the UK for solving everything though, are they? Ungrateful foreigners. I always look forward to voting Tory on voting day and I’m glad that we will be allowed outside to do that whenever the next election will be. It is a bit of a hassle though, so I suggest that we make the next vote the final one and then just keep the winners (which will obviously be national heroes, the Conservatives) forever.

2. The sound knowledge that the pandemic is over and can never happen again

Excited, Person, Happy, Enthusiastic, People, Young

Bit of an obvious one really. This is a once in a lifetime event. Our lives are going to be smooth sailing from now on.

1. Going to open seafood markets

Fish, Fresh, Market, Food, Seafood, Healthy, Raw

I was reading about how this whole thing started and it seems to have come from an open seafood market. Now, I’ve never been to one of these, but it sounded great. I think one of the biggest tragedies of this whole pandemic, is the fact that these will have been closed down. Supposedly they have bats at these things? That’s great. I wonder what they taste like? All I know is that when I went down to Morrison’s last Thursday, I couldn’t find bats anywhere. Now that I think about it, there are loads of animals I’ve never eaten before, so I’m really excited by the prospect of getting to go to these open seafood markets in future.

I hope you will enjoy all of these things. What are you looking forward to? What a time to be alive.

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Excitebike

Excitebike is one of Nintendo’s much older games, older even than Super Mario Bros. so if you’re someone who struggles to get into retro games, this probably isn’t going to be for you. In fact, when I first played it when I was a child, I thought to myself “Wow, this old game is rubbish.” But although my initial reaction was a rather negative one, I have slowly developed a small level of fondness for it.

So what is it? Essentially, it’s just a single player motorbike racing game. The race tracks are all “2.5D” I suppose, with a side on view of the Excitebiker riding along on their motorcycle, with the ability to move upwards and downwards across the various different lanes on the track. It’s useful to change between these lanes in order to avoid patches of grass, bumps on the track or to intentionally head towards ramps. The race tracks all look pretty similar (a fairly basic stadium set up, just in different colours) but you do get a fair bit of variety in terms of the different ramps and jumps spread out across them.

There are two modes, Selection A and Selection B. In the first of these, you go around the track on your own. This is intended for time trials, but I found it most useful to play for training purposes. Getting the jumps just right isn’t easy, because you have to position your rider so that the wheels are angled in the right way to land safely. If you fail to do this, you fall off the bike and have to watch them very slowly getting back on. Then in Selection B, you are racing against lots of other racers. You can ram into the other motorcyclists in order to knock them off their bikes, which is kind of fun, but they can do the same to you too. Beating them isn’t easy, so you’ll need to practise a lot in order to get good at these levels. There’s also a level designer… but you can’t save the levels, so it’s kind of pointless.

I think what made me think this game was rubbish initially is that its controls aren’t easy to grasp, it’s visually not very appealing and its premise is a very basic one. You have to hold down a button in order to make your bike go faster in order to properly compete with the other racers, but if you do it for too long, your bike overheats and you have to stop, but then you can also go over these strips on the track to cool it down. This can get annoying and positioning your bike just right for jumps and bumps on the track is really difficult as well. You’ll probably find yourself falling off the bike a lot. A lot of people will, fairly, decide that it’s not worth putting in the effort to get the hang of.

I guess for me, this is an acquired taste. Over time, I’ve grown kind of fond of its music (even though there’s only about one track) and the 8-bit sound of the motorbikes’ engines. Since Nintendo like to include Excitebike cameos in games (like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) I found myself encouraged to revisit it and over time, I slowly got used to it. Now I’m at the point where I can happily play and enjoy it for half an hour if I’m bored. But even I still struggle with it sometimes. I’m sure it seemed amazing to a child of the 80s, but today I’d only recommend it to dedicated Nintendo fans.

Rating: 5/10

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Top 10 Songs from Anathema

Today I have the second in my series of Top 10 playlists. Last time I did The Beatles and today I’ve done a very different band: Anathema. While The Beatles were once my favourite, they were dethroned by Anathema. Though I am partially biased due to their positive association with some positive experiences earlier in my life, I think Anathema create the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Here’s the list of ten of their best songs:

  1. Untouchable Part 1 & Part 2
  2. Dreaming Light
  3. The Lost Song Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3
  4. Everything
  5. Internal Landscapes
  6. Are You There?
  7. Fragile Dreams
  8. Angels Walk Among Us
  9. The Storm Before the Calm
  10. Springfield

As Anathema are slightly more obscure, I hope that I can introduce them to someone who has never heard them before. Some of their music is really happy, other pieces are more sad and melancholic, but all of it is highly cathartic. I find their songs to be just about the most soothing things to listen to under any circumstances. There’s a sort of chilling spiritual aspect to their music which always gets to me. Though the list is in no particular order, Untouchable is probably my favourite song of all time. I hope you can enjoy it as much as I do!

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The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

If you’ve ever seen The Room, you’ll know it’s just about the most bizarre movie ever made. Supposedly a serious drama, you’ll find it full of extremely oddball humour born out of the fact that all of the character are downright otherworldly and seem impossibly far away from real people. None of them are more peculiar than the main character, Johnny, who is played by the movie’s writer, direct and producer, Tommy Wiseau. The Disaster Artist tells the story of how The Room came to be and of the relationship between Wiseau and Greg Sestero (who plays Mark, another leading character in the movie).

I’d advise that you don’t read this book if you’ve never seen the movie. Once you have seen it, you’ll probably find yourself looking for answers. If you’re already a fan of the movie, I have to warn you that you probably won’t be able to watch the film in quite the same way again. Learning what you do as you read this, the whole thing develops a rather tragic element. You may have seen Tommy Wiseau as a clown-like figure before, but after this you’ll see he’s very much a sad clown.

As much as I did enjoy the information about The Room, where the ideas for it came from and the issues it faced during production, for me, the most interesting part of this book was how it covers the relationship between Greg and Tommy. At times, I thought Tommy seemed an awfully toxic and abusive person who wasn’t deserving of the friendship which Greg was offering him. At other times, I was so glad that they had each other. It’s such a beautiful and complicated thing.

What I also found fascinating, was the insight into Tommy Wiseau himself. I already knew he was an unusual and mysterious man, but the book made me realise that he’s even more curious than I thought. How does he seem to have a near infinite supply of money? Why does he own so many buildings in LA? Why is he so secretive about how old he is and where he comes from? Why does he like to tell people he’s a vampire? The book does provide a semi-speculative account of his origins and early life which, if true, are pretty darn heart-breaking.

On top of being an interesting insight into a movie I love, it’s also an amazing chronicle of the life of a struggling actor in LA and a look into a friendship which is quite unlike anything you’ll have heard before. Overall, that makes for a pretty great read.

Rating: 8.9/10

Buy it here.

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Global Quiz

Every summer I like to organise a meal out in Nando’s with all of the friends that I know. It’s always a really exciting day and something I look forward to. Of course, what with the ongoing global pandemic, it hasn’t been possible to arrange a meal like this this year.

Still, I didn’t want to miss out on doing something nice, so I decided to come up with an alternative. This year, I decided to host a large virtual quiz. In the end, I had about twenty friends playing in it. I have to say, I really enjoyed myself and, in some ways, it was better than if I had had a usual meal out.

I wrote a set of questions based around film, TV, video games and books, with the hope that I would be able to make at least one question for each person playing. I wanted everyone to have a moment where they felt pleased that their area of expertise had come up – this was a lot harder than I thought, but I really enjoyed putting it together and thinking about the individual interests of my different friends. Being a quiz host to so many is something I’d love to do again.

But what was most rewarding about it was the fact that I was able to have so many friends together at once. My circle of friends is spread, not only across the country, but across the world too. Arranging a simple Nando’s meal out would have meant that my friends who are more than about ten miles away couldn’t have come. For once, I had almost everybody together.

There are four people who I’ve ever considered to possibly be my best friend and I had 3/4 in the quiz. They all come from very different parts of my life and most of them haven’t really met before, or don’t interact together very often at very least – so having them together, in addition to a large number of other people that I feel very close to, was amazing. With so many people from different aspects of life all together at once, I suppose I could say that it made me feel ‘whole’ in a way that couldn’t have happened otherwise.

I hope to be able to arrange something else like this before long, because having all my friends together was really amazing. If I ever get to have a big, real world gathering with all these people – oh my. That will be a pretty darn exciting day.

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The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

This was only the second Zelda game that I ever played – as you can imagine, I feel a great deal of nostalgia for it and I am very fond of it. However, I don’t think my fondness is entirely rooted in nostalgia. I think this is genuinely one of the best instalments in the series.

Something I really like about this game is that its story is very different from the others. Link is onboard a ship which sinks in a storm and he then wakes up on Koholint Island. He then gets caught up in the mysteries of this island and finds himself on a quest to awaken the Wind Fish, who sleeps within a giant egg on top of the mountain. It’s much smaller scale than a heroic quest to save a kingdom from a dark lord, but I find this quirky little tale rather charming.

The original Game Boy wasn’t a particularly powerful console and Koholint Island is broken up into a large number of screens which you tranisition between. Despite this the island comprises of beaches, mountains, forests, swamps, caves, rivers, graveyards and more. At the time, it felt amazing to have this miniature world contained within a Game Boy cartridge and to this day, it’s something which remains appealing to me. It’s really satisfying to explore every nook and cranny of the island as there are a lot of secrets to discover.

A part of what makes Koholint Island so charming, is the people who inhabit it. First there’s Marin, a kind hearted girl who helps you out when you first wash up on the beach. There’s her Mario-lookalike father, Tarin, who loves hunting for mushrooms. There’s a talking alligator who loves eating dog food. Syrup, a witch who lives in a crooked tree who can make magic powders for you. There’s also a whole village of talking animals, including a hippo who’s a model. It’s beautiful.

And guess what else? This island is full of Nintendo cameos. Shy Guys, Goombas and Piranha Plants all appear as enemies. An evil version of Kirby, named the Anti-Kirby, is another one. There’s also Mr. Write, an introverted man who loves writing letters, who is also quite literally just Dr. Wright from Sim City. There’s a lady who keeps pet Chain Chomps and part of the game (a really good bit) involves taking one for a walk. Wart the villain of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Doki Doki Panic is an NPC. I love this kind of stuff.

Besides all this, you have a solid Zelda adventure, which involves exploring various different dungeons in order to collect ancient instruments. Despite being in black and white and working with 8-bit graphics, the game succeeds in making each of the eight dungeons feel unique and distinct. A part of this comes down to the fact that each one has its own musical theme. Speaking of which, the game as a whole greatly benefits from its soundtrack – though 8-bit, it helps set a mysterious tone (sometimes veering on creepy), helping to intrigue you about the dark secrets of the island.

Overall, I think this is a great game. It’s also a little melancholy, for reasons I won’t get into just now to avoid spoiling it, but it’s only really comparable to Majora’s Mask in this regard. If you’re in the mood for a classic Zelda adventure, but one which also goes against the mould in some regards, then this may be your best choice. I heavily recommend it to any fan of the series.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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John-Boy Walton and the Fight Against Fascism

Donald Trump recently tweeted that ANTIFA has now been classified as a terrorist organisation. Considering the fact that ANTIFA isn’t actually an organisation and just a word used to describe the community of people who oppose fascism, it’s very concerning news. I suppose it would be the equivalent of making feminism a terrorist organisation.

On a more positive note, I was recently watching what is, perhaps, the best episode of The Waltons: The Firestorm. Why am I mentioning this? It’s because it’s an episode which deals with fascism. In fact, it’s more than that: it’s an episode which shows just how fascism could begin to arise within the United States.

In the episode, as he grows concerned about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, John-Boy plans to write an article about Mein Kampf – printing excerpts from it to highlight how concerning it is. However, the local church group takes an interest in his idea and opposes it as they believe that printing the excerpts is just spreading Hitler’s word. The reverend then openly condemns John-Boy and his article during a sermon.

The response from the local people… is to start acting like Nazis. They’re pretty ignorant about what’s going on in Germany, so to their minds, it’s just a case of Hitler = bad, without being aware of realities of his fascist regime and the systematic oppression of the people there taking place.

So what happens to John-Boy? Local hooligans break into his car and toss all his copies of his newspaper out onto the street, he arrives just in time to stop him and they run off shouting “Seig Heil!” over and over again. All of his customers, who usually buy advertising in his newspaper, turn him down as, due his newfound bad reputation and they don’t want to be associated with it. Someone tosses a stone through the window of his house and he finds that the stone has a swastika on it. Even his friends and family start to turn against him… a situation similar to that of someone who might have spoken out against Hitler.

The anti-fascist message of the episode is very clear and it holds a warning too: when fear and ignorance run rampant, fascism can happen anywhere even in a country like America. This idea, today, would be considered controversial and even offensive to some, but it’s very true and it was ingeniously expressed in this episode. On a much larger scale, you can see how fascist views are beginning to spread through the country and that’s not because people like fascism (they don’t even realise what it is) but because misinformation has made them ignorant and afraid.

What’s ironic, is that The Waltons are considered an archetype of the all-American family, yet the views expressed on the show are more and more at odds with the vision for the country created by Donald Trump. President George Bush Sr. once said that America should be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Simpsons, but they should certainly be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Trumps. In the conclusion of the episode, a burning of German books is arranged and John-Boy makes them realise they’re burning a Bible among them, just like Nazis do, causing them to realise they’ve become the thing they’re most afraid of. Let’s hope the John-Boys of the real world can help people come to this same conclusion.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Growing up, I had quite a fondness for foxes and I was also very fond of the few Roald Dahl novels I was aware of. As such, I was pretty intrigued by Fantastic Mr. Fox, but for whatever reason, I never got around to reading it. That is, until now.

You may think that by waiting until I was an adult, I might have missed my opportunity to properly enjoy and maybe you’re right, but I still quite enjoyed reading it.

The story follows Mr. Fox as he evades a group of hideous farmers (Boggis, Bunce and Bean) who are trying to kill him because he steals chickens to feed his starving family. I suppose it’s a very simple premise, but it’s quite a short book, so it didn’t need to be more complex. The farmers are a good mixture of comedically ridiculous and genuinely intimidating. I have to admit that I was surprised by how dark it was at times: they’re there with guns, shooting at our cheeky talking animal protagonist and plotting other ways to try and kill him, his wife and his kids. I’m not sure a modern children’s book about a talking animal could get away with this.

Also, even though it may not have been intended by Dahl at all, I like to see it as an anti-fox hunting novel. People like to say that foxes are vermin who kill farmers’ innocent chickens and that’s why it’s okay to hunt them for sport, but as this book shows they’re just trying to feed their kids! What gives the farmers any more right to the lives of these chickens than the foxes?

So if you’re looking for a short, light-hearted children’s novel, then I think this might be just your glass of water!

Rating: 7.6/10

Buy it here.

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