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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No thanks, Manscaped!

Recently, I keep seeing adverts for a company called Manscaped, who sell male razors specifically designed for body hair removal. In theory, I am not against the existence of such a product, but in practise these adverts make me downright angry. They’re so toxic.

The all follow the same general premise: a man with body hair (and not ever really any excessive amount) will be out somewhere where his body hair is visible, usually a beach or something, then he’ll end up being shamed for it and end up shaving it off. To quote one of them directly “the thought of hair down there is disgusting!” and then some of them give statistics along the lines of “Did you know 80% of women hate body hair?” one even had a woman saying “If I’m going to be smooth, I expect you to as well!”

I hate it. It is a simple fact of life that people have body hair. Almost every single adult who ever lived has the capacity to grow body hair. And these adverts, by the way, tend to focus specifically on pubic hair. Nobody should feel self-conscious about this, because who’s even going to see this? Besides which, it’s a normal part of the human body. I’ve not seen a large number of people naked, but all of those who I have, have had pubic hair – male or female, it’s just a part of us and nobody should be made to feel it’s disgusting.

To clarify, I am not anti-shaving. All people are entitled to do as they please with their bodies. Some may want to shave, some may not and that’s fine, but what’s not fine is pressuring people to shave or telling them that they are disgusting because they don’t do it.

As a final side note, I also don’t like the implication of the advert that men should care about whether or not women find them sexually attractive. Absolutely not. Aside from the fact that it ignores homosexual and asexual men who won’t have any reason to care, even those who are seeking a female partner shouldn’t pay too much attention to it – this is not the path to confidence (the most attractive quality), rather it is the path to self-consciousness and insecurity.

I appreciate that this issue is one which disproportionately affects women rather than men, but it’s these adverts specifically targeted at men which have gotten me worked up recently. By all means, everything I’ve said in this blog posts applies to every person, regardless of gender. So if you have ever been made to feel that your body hair is gross, it isn’t – please don’t worry about it.

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Wario’s Woods

Wario’s games come in many different shapes and sizes. From platformers which aren’t too different from Mario games, all the way through to really bizzare mini-game collections. Wario’s Woods was one of the first Wario games and it’s very different to everything which came before or after.

Player’s may be a little disappointed to find that they don’t play as Wario, but instead Toad. Wario has invaded the Peaceful Woods and filled it with monsters, so Toad heads into the trees and has to stack bombs on different coloured enemies to make rows of fours to destroy them, eventually making your way to Wario.

This is, in my opinion, one of the best puzzle games Nintendo ever created and one of the best games on the NES. For a while, I played a level of this game every day after work and it was the perfect way to relax an unwind. It was pretty addictive actually and I often couldn’t stop after only one level. I was sad when it came to an end.

In some ways, it feels like it’s building on some of the ideas of Super Mario Bros. 2 and then implementing them in a puzzle game. Toad has never been a character I’ve been hugely invested in, but this is probably my favourite of his playable appearances because this is a fun and unique game and it’s all ‘his’. It’s also nice that it has some kind of a story (the end is pretty funny) and Birdo is there too – which is kind of random, but interesting early use of the character.

So if you like puzzle games, you should definitely try this because it plays really well and hasn’t really aged too badly at all (despite being a NES game). I think it’s a shame that this game is so overlooked because I consider it a real classic.

Rating: 9/10

Buy it here.

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A Video Tribute to The Waltons

Nine years ago, I saw a video by a YouTuber called BabelColour who had made a Doctor Who tribute video set to the song ‘What About Everything’ by Carbon Leaf. I think he did an excellent job. It was also my first time hearing this song – I loved it. I thought to myself “It would be great if somebody made a tribute video to The Waltons set to the same song.”

The years went by and every time I listened to the song, I imagined which clips would appear alongside which lyrics. Then, a few weeks ago, with the time on my hands that the lockdown has afforded, I thought to myself “Why don’t I have a try at making it myself?” so I did just that. I tried to encompass every aspect of the show, including clips from every season and representing all of the major characters – but there was a lot to represent! Anyway, you can watch my video below and I hope you will enjoy it:

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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo

My first Victor Hugo book was Les Misérables – a truly beautiful novel. I didn’t really know much about The Hunchback of Notre-Dame going in, but I thought I might enjoy it in the same sort of way. As it turns out, it’s a very different book and also, it’s a very weird book.

Essentially, it’s about the way in which the lives of several people in Paris in the 15th century tie together. Those people are Quasimodo, a deformed hunchbacked man living in Notre-Dame. Esmeralda, a dancing gypsy girl who performs in the area. Claude Frollo, an outcast alchemist who raised Quasimodo and who has a perverse obsession with Esmeralda. Gringoire, an unsuccessful poet who’s kind of useless and through an unusual sequence of events, crosses paths with Esmeralda quite significantly. Finally, there’s Phoebus – a sleazy, unintelligent, womanising soldier who Esmeralda somehow falls in love with.

There are a lot of characters involved in this story and I’ve only mentioned the most important ones. Though it was sometimes harder to keep up with the less significant characters, I will say that each of those main five left a pretty distinct impression on me. I was perpetually concerned for Esmeralda, amidst the dangerous world of 1500s France. I had endless pity for Quasimodo and the extreme amount of prejudice and persecution he faces for his disabilities and appearance. Gringoire was a kind of comic relief and I had a kind of sympathy for him, being as ridiculous as he was. Phoebus was also a ridiculous sort of comic relief, but he was more of an annoying character in that his unintelligence and lack of empathy have serious consequences for others. Frollo, on the other hand, was downright detestable – a horrible and disgusting villain who made me uncomfortable and angry.

I’ve mentioned that the book has elements of comedy in it and I have to admit that it made me laugh a few times. However, I don’t want to give the impression that this is a light-hearted novel. Though it is occasionally humorous, the overwhelming feeling that I had while reading it was distress and sadness. Loads of really horrible things happen in this book and as I was quite invested in the characters, it was actually hard to keep reading at times. Of all the books I’ve read, this one might just be the most deserving of the ‘Tragedy’ label. At the end, I thought that it was all so cold and meaningless. Suffering without end or release.

Sadly, the biggest flaw of the book was the fact that beside sadness and despair, my most felt emotion while reading it was probably boredom. I don’t think the storyline is boring and overall I enjoyed reading it on the whole, but there’s an element of Hugo’s signature style that does get rather grating the more you encounter it. Without warning, he’ll go off on excessively long tangents covering different subjects or themes included in the novel. For example, one chapter took me over a hour to read and was all about the architectural history of Paris. This isn’t necessarily a subject I’m not interested in, but I don’t think he does a good job of making these things interesting, because he goes into such endless amounts of detail and it’s all irrelevant to the plot. These tangents sometimes go on for several chapters at a time, to the extent that you might even forget what’s going on in the main storyline because of them.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this book. I’m glad I read it. However, it’s not something I’d recommend to everybody. It’s a very heavy read and I’m sure it would leave a lot of people feeling quite depressed. If you enjoy classics and are still interested, I’m sure you’ll love it – but tread with caution!

Rating: 8.2/10

Buy it here.

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A Song for Our Times from Chris Hunter

If you’re anything like me, then perhaps you’ll be listening to a little more music now that you’re in lockdown. If that is the case, then I have a recommendation for you! One of my very best friends, Chris Hunter, has recorded a new song which I think nicely encapsulates the general feelings of the world at this time. You can listen to it on his SoundCloud page.

Titled ‘together as 1’, it’s a very emotional song and a very epic song. Though it is about the difficulty of life during the pandemic, it’s also a hopeful song and one which, I hope, would at least partially lift the spirts of anybody who’s struggling to deal with things right now. Anyway, rather than just reading what I have to say about it, why don’t you go ahead and listen to it yourself? I’m sure you won’t regret it. After my first listening, I went back and listened to it again and you know what? I’m gonna just go ahead and listen to it again now.

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Super Bomberman

This was the first Bomberman game to be released on the SNES and it’s a pretty solid instalment in the series. If I’m completely honest, a lot of Bomberman games are all pretty similar, but they all have a very solid formula at their heart (especially for multiplayer) which makes the series fun to return to regularly.

The single player story is your standard affair – the planet of the Bomber people is threatened by an evil villain, so you have to go through various levels in order to defeat their minions and to work your way up to them. You walk around through mazes full of destructible walls and have to defeat all of the enemies in them and find the exit, collecting items which enhance the power of your bombs as you do. Levels include fun fairs, factories and sky scrapers. What I found most fun in single player were the boss battles, which are all giant enemies which require a little more strategy to defeat. The final bosses in particular were impressive, though also rather tricky!

Then, of course, there’s the multiplayer mode. I think this is the selling point for most people – not that the single player mode is bad. In this, two to four Bombermen are put in an arena together and have to blow each other up. It’s really fun running around and trying to out-manoeuvre your opponents with bomb placements. It can be hilarious to watch people accidentally blow themselves up and the feeling of trapping somebody in a corner with your bombs is delightful. What makes this one especially remarkable (historically) is that it was a four-player game on a console which only allowed two players – it came with a special device which let you add two more controls.

So if you get this game, you’re getting the amazing Bomberman multiplayer fun that has been highly regarded for so long… but you’re not really getting anything you can’t get anywhere else in the series. It’s a shame, because at the time it was highly innovative, but what made it impressive has ceased to be so.

Rating: 7.8/10

Buy it here.

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Writing Revival

One thing I’ve been very pleased about is the fact that I’ve been much more productive as a writer since the lock down began. I don’t mean to take the angle of saying that this is a good situation, because the lock down is certainly a bad thing (though necessary) and there are a lot of things that I miss, but my newfound productivity in writing is a definite positive.

I set myself the goal of writing one short story a week and, so far, I’ve been able to stick with it. This is fantastic. I’ve written more in the last few weeks than I have in the last two years combined. I’m even looking into opportunities to get my fiction published again, which is something I’ve not done in a long time!

If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve been this enthusiastic about writing fiction since 2012 – during which time I was studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and had a large group of people to share my work with regularly and friends who were happy to talk with me about my ideas whenever I wanted. I didn’t think that spark of creative passion would ever shine quite so brightly again, because I thought it was dependent on that specific context – but it has.

Ideas come to me as I’m doing the dishes, making lunch, having a walk and whatever else and I can’t wait to get them down on paper (digital paper). It’s hard to convey just how important this is to me, but it makes me so happy. Though I don’t imagine my day to day routines will change at all for some time, I hope that I am able to keep up this writing pace for a long time as it is endlessly rewarding.

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Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

It turns out that what most people think of as the book Little Women, is actually both it and its sequel Good Wives published together as one – so I was quite shocked when I thought I’d finished the book, only to find that there was still so much more to be read. Personally, I think the two books are so distinct, that it’s strange that they’re generally considered as one. They weren’t even published as one!

The first book was all about the lessons Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy learned from their mother during a particularly significant year in their lives as young adults and in this book, we get to see how they put those lessons to use as they branch out into the world.

The lives of all four of them go in very different directions. Meg settles down and has a child with her husband, Beth continues to struggle with the illness which she narrowly survived at the end of the previous book, Jo tries to make it as a writer and Amy is given the opportunity to tour across Europe.

I really like the way that their lives suddenly become much broader and that they’re all taken in very different directions – it contrasts nicely with their childhood in the first book, where everything seemed to be of a significantly smaller scale and they were always together. Alcott has done a good job of highlighting the changes between child and adult life.

I also really enjoyed watching the evolution of each of the sisters’ relationships with Laurie change as they grow into young (or should I say little?) women. Their simple friendships become more complex and Laurie himself undergoes an interesting character arc which I thought was pretty well done and nicely progressive. He felt much more developed in this book when compared to the first one.

Overall, I’d say that this is a sequel which definitely improves over the original. The first book created some interesting characters and established who they were and what each of them stood for – this book then casts them into the world and puts these characters to the test, it lets us find out how they respond to the world. It’s an all round excellent book – although I did feel disappointed with Beth’s ultimate fate, I did enjoy every other aspect.

Rating: 9.1/10

Buy it here.

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Top 10 Songs from The Beatles

I wanted to start something a little bit different today. In the past I’ve done a few ‘Music Suggestions’ based blog posts, but I thought of a new, more fun way to share the music I enjoy – playlists!

I thought a good place to start would be The Beatles, a band I am very fond of and was obsessed with as a teenager. The list of the songs in the playlist is not necessarily the order in which I like them. I just wanted to give a range of their best work. Here’s the list of songs included:

  1. I Am The Walrus
  2. I Want to Hold Your Hand
  3. Help!
  4. Hello, Goodbye
  5. Across the Universe
  6. A Day in the Life
  7. A Hard Day’s Night
  8. Eleanor Rigby
  9. Free as a Bird
  10. What’s the New Mary Jane?

There are some really good songs on that list and I’ve tried to include not only the popular ones, but also more obscure ones which I really like from a span across their career. If you want to listen through them, just click on the video above and it will automatically play them all in this order!

I’ll be making other playlists like this in future. Not only of bands either…

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