Writing Priorities

The one or two of you who read every single one of my blog posts may have realised that I didn’t post anything on Monday – one of my usual update days. It’s pretty rare for me not to update, but I had a pretty good excuse.

Basically, I was writing something else. There was a period in the day that I had especially planned to be the time in which I would write the next blog post, but then just before that I quickly wanted to write something else and the thing that I wanted to write ended up being longer than expected.

As I was writing, I thought to myself “Should I stop doing this for second to go away and focus on a blog post? I don’t want to deviate from my update schedule, after all. Just look at what happened when I did that with my webcomic…” but in the end, I decided just to keep going with this other project.

As much as plans and schedules are useful for motivating writers, I don’t think we should stick to them too rigidly. I think it would have been rather foolish to stop the flow of creative energy which was spilling out for another project, just so I could do a blog post. After all, all creativity is valuable and it would be silly of me to focus on one thing over another.

So that’s why there was no blog post. I thought I’d share this inconsequential anecdote as a lesson to myself and others: follow your heart and not your rules when it comes to writing.

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 9 by Yusei Matsui

Assassination Classroom continues into its ninth volume with the conclusion to the quite literally explosive cliff hanger at the end of Volume 8. I found that the resolution was quite satisfying in some ways, but also a bit of a ‘cop out’ as they say, in others. I’ll leave you to form your own opinions about that.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the tension which built throughout the last couple of volumes has now reached its climax and a lot of Volume 9 is about getting the characters back into the swing of their everyday lives. We’ve got the rest of their holiday (which is passed with various light-hearted activities) and then, after that, they head back to school and it’s essentially business as usual.

Though it may not be as exciting as the volumes immediately preceding it, I think it was important to have an instalment like this, because after the intense, emotionally charged events that had just happened, we needed a bit of a breather. We appreciate the normality all the more, because we’ve seen the fabric of their lives threatened.

What I like is that, by now, Koro-sensei has cemented himself as the whimsical, impish delight that he is, whose main and only concern is the wellbeing of the children. For me, he just becomes more lovable the more I see of him. I feel like I’ve said something similar in my review of every volume – but it’s so true. He’s such a well written character.

While this volume may not have all that much of a cliffhanger, we’re left with the thought that time is running out and, no doubt, the hardships they face will only grow in the future… I’m looking forward to the next one!

Rating: 8.9/10

Buy it here.

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Teaching Children LGBT People Exist

A lot of people have been talking about the subject of whether or not it’s ethical to teach primary school children about LGBT people and as this is a subject I feel rather passionately about, I decided I’d write a little bit about the subject myself.

For a while, I had believed that the general public was of the opinion that it was perfectly fine to be LGBT – not at all ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’ as people once foolishly believed, but this ongoing discussion has alerted me to the fact that this is not the case. Ignorance and homophobia/transphobia are the only two logical reasons someone would oppose this.

LGBT people obviously have different perspectives and experiences in life when compared to non-LGBT people, so in order to help children grow to become more conscientious of others and not make their lives difficult, it is important for them to be aware that LGBT people exist. Without this knowledge, they will grow to be ignorant and potentially hold homophobic attitudes of their own.

But, of course, the biggest reason to teach children about LGBT people is that they might be LGBT themselves. By preventing them from having this education, they are essentially condemning LGBT children to confusion and unhappiness. It is 100% homophobic & transphobic, because it is the non-hertrosexual and transgender students who will suffer most from not having it.

And what’s the only argument against this? The biggest one seems to be that it’s the right of the parents to tell their children about these things – and I do actually agree about that. The problem is, that these same people are then saying they don’t want their children to know – so if they’re not going to do it, they’re highlighting exactly why its important for schools to do so. These things will always be better coming from the parents, but if the parents are unwilling or too ignorant of the subject, the schools step in.

To clarify – this isn’t about sex: this is literally just teaching children about the existence of LGBT people. There is nothing harmful about this. When I was in primary school, they showed us how to put condoms onto bananas and tampons into cups of water. What a waste of an hour that was. A class about the LGBT community would have been far more useful.

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Yooka-Laylee

I always felt that Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64 were three of the best games I ever played. The Grant Kirkhope soundtracks, the whimsical world and goofy characters, the dark sense of humour if you read between the lines, the sense of exploration – they all combined to create very charming video game experiences. The problem is that this style of game kind of disappeared after the Nintendo 64 era – but thankfully, Yooka-Laylee brought it back.

The story goes that a lizard named Yooka and a bat named Laylee find the magical ‘One Book’, which is then stolen by an evil corporation who plan to use it for their own selfish gains. Unfortunately, all the pages end up breaking out and getting lost across several “Grand Tome” worlds, where the two of them have to try to hunt them down. The worlds are: some ancient ruins, a winter wonderland, a spooky swamp, a casino and a space pirate world.

I adore these locations, because they’re all so beautifully rendered and have superb soundtracks to accompany them. These days, I find it hard to play games for more than a couple of hours, but I was easily able to do so when playing this game. I just loved getting lost in these enchanting locations: using logs as stepping stones in a murky marsh, making my way through icy caves or riding a minecart through a giant casino – my heart and imagination were captured in ways they hadn’t been in a long time.

For fans of old Rare games, there are plenty of treats too. Kartos (an anthropomorphic minecart) appears in every level for some Donkey Kong Country minecart level tributes (though, I must say, they don’t quite play as well a the originals, but we still get some nice new David Wise music), a scientist named Dr. Puzz will use a special ray to transform you in every level, ala Mumbo Jumbo (with transformations including a galleon and a snow plow) and Roysten the Goldfish even makes a cameo swimming around in the bowl on her head. You’ll also find references to Conker the Squirrel and Jet Force Gemini. Also, he may not be Rare, but Shovel Knight appears as an NPC too.

It’s a pity that there have been a moderately sized number of negative reviews of Yooka-Laylee, as I consider it one of the best games I’ve played in a while. Some say that the controls and camera are bad and effect enjoyment: I had no issues with either of these. Some say the worlds are barren and empty: they all felt appropriately populated to me. It may be a bit of a marmite experience, or perhaps I am a little skewed by nostalgia, but please don’t let these reviews put you off as there are many people, like me, who think its superb.

So, I definitely recommend it. Not only is it a beautiful, enjoyable, immersive and addictive experience, but it’s also pretty hilarious – look out for Laylee’s snide comments to every person she meets! It’s a wonderful tribute to those classic N64 games and though it may not be quite good enough to surpass them, it’s still a good game in its own right and I certainly can’t wait to see what is done with Yooka and Laylee next.

Rating: 9.7/10

Buy it here.

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Time Capsule 2

In 2014, I wrote a series of questions for myself to answer exactly five years later. In my most recent blog post I did just that and it was a very enjoyable experience. It really helped me to appreciate all the things that I had gained in the time that passed and I have to admit that the me of 2019 is in a much better position than the me of 2014. So now I’m making another and the thought of my answers in 2024 is very exciting and heartwarming. So, without further ado, here we go again:

  1. Same first question as last time: is everyone still alive? That’s the most important thing!
  2. Hopefully I’m still alive too. Does my phone still work though? I’m setting a reminder to do this in my current phone, so I hope I still have it in 2024 – it will only be eight years old, so I feel like it should be fine.
  3. I have full faith in you, my future self, to still be writing this blog, so, tell me, what’s the best blog post I wrote in the last five years?
  4. What’s happening with your Finger Puppet Show? I trust that the hiatus will be over.
  5. When was the last time you saw: Amy, Ben, Chloe, Christian, Dalfino, Davey, Egan, Edward, George, Hayley, Kat, Liam, Mairi, Rory, Sarah, Sophie, Stacey, Stephanie or Tasha? Make sure to reach out to anyone you’ve not seen in a while!
  6. How is your mental health doing? I worry that if a lot of your friends go away, you will become sad and depressed – but right now you feel good and happy: don’t forget, if you are depressed, that you’ll always become happy again. Friends always come back eventually and there are always new friends to make!
  7. Are there any people who are important to you, but who I don’t know yet?
  8. Where are you working these days? Have you had many changes of job since 2019?
  9. Have you had a chance to visit any other countries yet?
  10. What’s a particularly rewarding experience you’ve had in the last five years?
  11. What do you know in 2024 which would be the most exciting piece of information for me to know in 2019?
  12. Finally, just as I said in my last time capsule, make sure to create a new one to be opened in 2029! You’ll be approaching 40 by then. Oh my.
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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 over 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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