Reviewsday – Grief

Reviewsday doesn’t quite work on a Wednesday. Revednesday. Nope. That Bank Holiday’s made a right mess of things!

Anyway, we have a bit of a dark Reviewsday this week… I’ve decided to review Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief. Most of you will have experienced grief at some point in your life; the loss of a friend or a family member, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship. Many things create in us a state of grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross put forth the theory that the brain goes through a series of stages when coping with grief. Her initial thoughts were that these stages were passed through by a person suffering with a terminal illness, but the theory has since been expanded to cover any form of grief.

The stages can be remembered by the acronym DABDA; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Different people will pass through the stages at different rates. Some people may skip stages; this is just a rough guideline. Grief is on my mind quite a bit at the moment. In real life I’ve got a very poorly Nanna, and a very poorly dog. Both mean a heck of a lot to me, and the prospect of losing either one is ridiculously upsetting. Slightly more trivial; a couple of the short stories I’m currently writing involve emotional devastation; through death or through the learning of terrible truths. So I’m very aware of grief right now, and the most pragmatic part of my brain wants to deconstruct the stages to be better prepared.

Denial
Somewhat toddler-like, we start out with the sheer refusal to believe that the impending doom is going to happen. This is the desperate attempts to believe that it’s all going to be alright. Maybe you misheard the news, maybe the test results got mixed up and it’s really happening to someone else. Maybe there was some sort of mistake. Maybe this is all some terrible dream and in the morning you’ll wake up and it’ll be ok.

Anger
So you wake up and it’s not ok. And the next morning you wake up and it’s still not ok. And eventually it sinks in that this terrible thing is happening whether you like it or not. You really don’t like it, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening and the powerlessness drives you absolutely crazy. The more you can’t do anything, the more angry you get that it’s happening. It’s not fair, you’re better than this horrid thing. You’ve worked so hard to do the right things, why should this happen to you?

Bargaining
The anger breaks on the hundredth utterance of ‘It’s not fair’ and a last ditch of desperation appears. You find yourself willing to do anything to escape your fate. You walk the safest paths and avoid anything even remotely risky, you swear by whatever deity you believe in that you will be the best person you can be if only they give you another chance. I would call this step ‘Desperation’ except that would ruin the acronym; no one wants to associate ‘DADDA’ with grief.

Depression
Your bargains receive no answer, the impending awfulness is still impending and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. So you give up. You shut out well-wishers and you wallow in futile sadness that it’s all so very out of your control. Now the tears shed are not the tears of shock, but the tears of how bloody rotten everything is, and how this shouldn’t be happening, and how distraught you are now you know what you’re distraught about.

Acceptance
Then something clicks in your understanding. It’s not necessarily the serenity of being granted the knowledge to see what you can’t change, or however that goes, but rather the point when you realise that there’s nothing you can do about the fact that there’s nothing you can do. You’re no less sad than you were, no less angry at the way things are, but you’re probably a bit less stressed and able to deal with the things you need to deal with.

And that’s that. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

Now, to make up for the really sad subject, here’s a couple of adorable things.
really cute puppies grief
adorable baby kitten

Our Messed Up World…

Right then world. Stop what you’re doing, that’s it, drop everything and listen up. I’ve got just a few complaints. I’m just a little fed up with how awful things are at the moment and I need to get it off my chest.

Firstly and foremostly; the straw which has broken the dam. Anyone in the UK is probably already painfully aware of this. Yesterday a man was killed in Woolwich, London. That’s the simplest way of putting it. This man was a soldier in our armed forces, and was wearing a Help for Heroes t-shirt. That seems to be what singled him out for this horrendous attack. Two men, armed with knives, cleavers and machetes, killed him, then waited by his body, spouting political and religious statements until the police arrived.

Seriously. What the fuck?

Sorry, this isn’t a swearing blog. I’m just so angry and sad that this has happened. I’m sad for the man’s family, friends and colleagues. I’m furious that other members of our armed forces have been advised to cover their uniforms in public, although latest reports suggest that advice is about to be reversed. I have so much respect for our armed forces and for the work they do. The police too, and the fire and ambulance services; all of these people who work not for a profit, but for the good of their country and its people – us. Any attack on them is an attack on the United Kingdom, and I don’t think I’m the only one around taking this a little personally.

The attack in Woolwich has been hailed a terror attack. It’s not like the previous attacks we’ve seen; the bombs at the Boston Marathon, the events of 7/7 and 9/11. These terrorists were just two men, armed with knives. Somehow I find this so much more frightening than the idea of bombs and large-scale attacks. The trouble with terrorists is that it’s not clear who is and who isn’t one; it’s not an entire country, and it’s not an entire religion, it’s a group of people with extreme beliefs and who are willing to go to extreme measures for those beliefs. Extreme measures, which include killing innocent people just because of the job they do or the country they live in. It’s disgusting and it just makes me so angry and exhausted.

To add to the awful events of yesterday, I’ve read comments on the news saying that the ‘English Defence League’ (who I really think ought to stop. Just stop being whatever it is they are and go away) have taken to the streets, including one man being arrested for carrying a knife into a Mosque.

Seriously. What the fuck?

Who takes a knife into a place of prayer? Who thinks that the correct response to militant extremists attacking an innocent person is to send militant extremists out onto the streets with the aim of threatening innocent people? I am English, but I want nothing to do with this so-called Defence League.

Also making me sad and angry at the moment are the happenings in Oklahoma. No terrorists here, but still a world of devastation. The perpetrator was a tornado. We’ve been hearing about a lot of natural disasters lately, and this tornado has added another 90 to the death toll. Unavoidable, people took shelter as and where they could whilst the tornado tore its way through Oklahoma City, hitting the suburban area of Moore particularly hard.

There’s no one to blame for this. No one sat down and planned it; no one decided spur of the moment to go out and release a tornado. It just happened, like Hurricane Sandy last year, and like the earthquake which struck China just last month. And yet even with no one to blame, there is anger that this could happen, that it could happen so quickly, and that it happened in such a densely populated area. The tornado ploughed through a school, killing children. I sat in my car on Tuesday lunchtime, listening to a fire marshall break down as she talked about the recovery work they’re doing and I wanted to cry myself. It’s not fair that these things happen which are so out of anyone’s control and are so damaging to whoever stands in their way.

But what really doesn’t make sense is that, even though we have these natural disasters all over the world, we have earthquakes in Asia and the Middle East, we have hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis, and there are still people bringing it upon themselves to kill other people. There’s more than enough death in this world as it is; no one should be adding more.

So please, people of the planet Earth. How about we all just stop doing what it is we’re doing, and instead of fighting each other, let’s have a go at working together to fix the things we can’t prevent. There’s no need to be killing our soldiers or setting off bombs at public events. No need at all. Gavel!

Discuss…

Reviewsday – Les Miserables

It’s hard to get the true measure of something on a single viewing, tasting or other method of sampling. Cinematic experiences are particularly true for this, in my experience. The hype of visiting the cinema and the engrossing viewing environment; the big screen, the surround sound, the dimmed lights and the inability to pop out for a cuppa and get distracted loading the washing machine all add to the enjoyment of the film. I know I find that I’m much more likely to rave about something I’ve seen at the cinema, than I am to rave about a first viewing of something on the smaller screen.

Because of this, I’ve decided that the only way to review a film is to watch it once on the big screen, then let it sit for 4 months, watch it again on the small screen and make the review after that second exposure. Or at least that’s what I’ve done with the subject of this week’s reviewsday. With the slight addition of having listened to the soundtrack off and on throughout that 4 month break.

So, without further ado, I bring you my review of Les Miserables.

Les Miserables poster

First thing I need to do is to issue, as is often the case, a disclaimer. I have not read The Brick; aka the literary source material for this story. I have, however, seen the West End production, and I’ve even seen the film they made in the 90s with Liam Neeson taking on the role of Val Jean and not singing a note. So I know a bit about Les Mis. I’ll go as far as to say I was already a fan before I saw the most recent film adaptation. Because of that, I’m not going to give you a review of the story – it’s been retold in so many ways and I’ve seen/heard so many slightly different versions, it’s just going to get confusing. Instead I’m going to give you a 2012 film-specific review, looking at the cast and some of the direction and giving my opinion on them.

Now, I’m a list-based reviewer. That’s just how I roll, and that’s how I’m going to go about this. My points will be vaguely in film order, simply because I made notes during my small screen viewing and that’s how it worked out!

Hugh Jackman. Upon first viewing I liked him, but having listened to the soundtrack several (hundred) times, there’s just something I don’t like about his voice. It’s too energetic at times; too much a caberet star, and it doesn’t have the gravity I want in my Jean Val Jean. To be fair to Hugh; the two JVJs I’m comparing him to are Colm Wilkinson and John Owen Jones (who I saw on stage as the Phantom); both truly epic performers, and both with a bit more oomph to their voice. Watching the film again last night I sort of forgot my complaints; when watching him acting, Hugh does a fantastic job, but listening to the audio on its own lets him down a little bit. This is most likely due to the fact that they recorded it ‘live’ on set, which has to be exhausting, and I would imagine the acting and the singing each lost a little bit in trying to get both captured at the same time.

Russell Crowe, because I can’t start with one and not follow with the other. Who knew he could sing? Again, as with Hugh, he’s not got the same depth of tone as the West End cast recordings I’m familiar with. I adore Earl Carpenter’s version of Javert. I do, however, rate Russell’s version; I really see in him the black-and-white logic of Inspector Javert, and the utter conviction he has in his faith and his duty. I particularly liked the scenes between Val Jean and Javert – the two actors played against each other very well. There’s a video on youtube with Hugh and Russell singing Confrontation and they just look like they’re having so much fun!

Anne Hathaway – I know she’s persona non-grata on the ol’ interwebs, but I’ve always been an Anne Hathaway fan. I don’t get why people don’t like her. Fantine’s a tricky character; she’s not in the film for long enough for the audience to love her, but I think Anne did wonderfully, and I Dreamed A Dream was wonderfully performed – it’s such an emotional song, and was heart-aching to watch on both screens.

Samantha Barks – Now, here’s where it gets interesting; Sam Barks is from actual musicals; she was Eponine in the 2th Anniversary Concert, she knows how the theatre audience want to see their Eponine, and so I couldn’t help but to love her performances. What I didn’t love, however, was what the adaptation did to her character. In my mind, Eponine is lovely; she fancies the pants off Marius, but she helps when he asks for help; even if that help is pushing him toward Cosette. She climbs the barricades mid-battle to deliver news that she has given his note to Val Jean. In the movie she’s a scheming, conniving cowbag, hiding notes and just generally being unhelpful. Why?!?!

Also, whilst we’re on this particular soapbox, what the heck did they do to On My Own? The musical arrangement was beautiful, Sam’s voice was lovely. The scene, however, looked like a rather dodgy pop video. It’s everything I disliked about the direction of the film; the overuse of out-of-focus camera shots, the bizarre need for a rain deluge every time Eponine sings about rain, and yet remaining dry as a bone in every other shot. What is this?!? I may be over sensitive, I love Eponine, I love On My Own, I had such high hopes for that bit, and found it so utterly wanting. It’s not even just that scene, the strange out-of-focus camera work happens fairly often, and the mysterious sudden rain shower reappears when Eponine is felled at the barricades, just in time for A Little Fall Of Rain. Maybe the rain’s not as metaphorical as I had thought.

Quickly through the rest of the cast so as to not make this too much of an essay;

  • Aaron Tveit’s Enjolras is sheer perfection. This may be because I went into the film with already a little crush on the character, a crush which was certainly not harmed by that earnest face and amazing eye acting. The way Enjolras stares at Marius, and then later at Grantaire – makes my lustful knees go weak!
  • Speaking of Grantaire – major props to George Blagden; he wasn’t in the film for long, but he gave such an emotional performance.
  • Eddie Redmayne was a fantastic Marius. I believed in his love for Cosette, and his devotion to the revolution. Yes, his singing voice was a bit different to everyone else’s, but I kinda loved it. He sounds like he’s been airlifted from a Sinatra film, and there’s nowt wrong with that!
  • Amanda Seyfried was good as Cosette; a bit shrill at times, but not enough to distract from her performance. Bloomin’ difficult to warble along to in the car though!
  • Sasha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter made for amusing Thenardiers, but upon second viewing I wasn’t so easily amused. I think it’s because I can’t put aside the actors from the roles – I look at Sasha Baron Cohen and I see his other performances; Borat and Pirelli in particular, just as I look at Helena Bonham Carter and see Mrs Lovett, and every kooky Tim Burton character she’s ever played.
  • Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) on the other hand is seventeen shades of perfect. His EVERY moment on screen is exactly right.

My favourite scene in the movie was probably Do You Hear The People Sing; the revolution’s beginnings in the crowds; a slow building song of revolution. In the cinema I got goosebumps (and that was the moment the tears started flowing, not to end until the credits rolled.) I also loved One Day More; it’s impossible to do that sort of montage in the theatre, and so there wasn’t much to compare it to, but even so it exceeded my expectations; as they prepared for battle. Marius’s return always makes me smile, especially with the addition of Redmayne and Tveit’s eye acting.

In fact, the whole short-lived revolution needs to be talked about. It was engrossing viewing; I flinched at every one of the gunshots. I wept piteously as Gavroche fell. I felt my heart breaking as the battle turned and the students were banging on doors begging for salvation. That final scene; Enjolras and Grantaire standing together, knowing death was moments away. That brief moment was so perfect, and such a lovely nod to the fans, especially those who maintain the pair were more than just brothers in arms.

Javert’s unravelling further served to break me; I did not expect the moment when he removed his medal and pinned it to Gavroche’s chest, and so that surprise utterly devastated me in the most cathartic way – his resolution had broken and his downfall had begun. At his suicide I wanted to applaud, as is right and proper in the theatre but most unacceptable in a cinema. Yes it was brutal, but the whole film is brutal in just the right way.

I do have to mention a couple of small annoyances (aside from the aforementioned camera work and rain scenes) – I didn’t like the sewer scenes. Yes; sewers are dirty and full of poo, but when Val Jean and mostly-dead-Marius emerged with gross poo-encrusted faces it broke my concentration just a little bit. They could have restrained the make up artist just a bit on that one, I think. Also – what the fudge was going on with their accents?!? I know the film was set in France, and to have them all doing dodgy French accents would have ruined it; but they could at least have picked one English dialect. I heard everything from Cockney London to Yorkshire to Irish, and that’s not even focusing on Hugh Jackman’s ever changing tones. It wasn’t a major big deal, but it was a bit irritating.

I’m going to bring this to a close on two last good moments of a fantastic film. Firstly; Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. This song, for me, is the end of the story; everything after is the gentle wrapping up; like coasting downhill. Eddie delivered this song so beautifully and so heartbreakingly, highlighting the devastating loss of so many young men.

And finally; Colm Wilkinson’s cameo as the Bishop made me too happy; seeing the original Val Jean on the big screen was a much appreciated hat tip to those of us who recognised his voice/face.

Les Miserables

Let Kids Be Kids

I woke up this morning and checked my e-mail, checked my facebook, then had a look at the BBC news webpage in case something had happened overnight that I would need to be aware of.

What I found was the following headline;

Age of consent should be 13, says barrister

The barrister in question, one Barbara Hewson, specialises in public and administrative law; human rights and civil liberties; and professional discipline and regulatory law. She lists her interests as the following; ‘abortion rights, autonomy, childbirth, civil liberties, due process, privacy’. And yet I almost don’t need to know any of that. My entire view of this woman, whom I had previously never heard of, is now tainted by an article she wrote for online magazine Spiked.

Hewson’s article does not make for very pleasant reading. Her attitude is awful as she stomps eloquently from the 1880s Social Purity movement, when the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16, to the last few decades and revelations of what was happening at the BBC and, I believe, more widely spread. I could easily give a strongly worded retort to each sentence in her article, but I will restrict myself to just a few.

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

This is Hewson’s opening line. This pretty much sets the tone for the entire article. It’s disgusting, especially when you consider that this is coming from a barrister; from a woman whose job it is to uphold the law, to ensure justice is done. She seems to be missing the major facts; that these ‘old men’ being ‘persecuted’ are actually suspects of rape and sexual assault who are being questioned and/or arrested for actual crimes which happened to actual people. Actual young, unwilling girls. This is not persecution – there are no pitchfork-wielding mobs traversing the streets and baying for blood; this is an attempt at justice.

In the 1880s, the Social Purity movement repeatedly tried to increase the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16, despite parliament’s resistance. At that time, puberty for girls was at age 15 (now it is 10).

The second sentence in this quote was where I am startled at Hewson’s attempt to twist logic and factual accuracy to make her point. The fact is that, on average, puberty for girls in the 21st Century begins at 10 or 11 and finishes by 15 or 16. Thus the age of consent standing at 16 makes sense. There is a school of thought that puberty in girls happens earlier now than it did in the 19th Century – this would make sense; puberty is triggered by how physically capable a girl’s body is of carrying a child – 150 years ago girls would have been thinner, possibly weaker or more unhealthy, and so their bodies would not change so early. What these facts say to me is not that the age of consent should lower as the average age of puberty has, but in fact that the law change of the 1880s was much needed, and did not go far enough to protect the girls of the time.
(‘Behavioural Endocrinology’, edited by Jill B Becker provides some scientific back up for the above statements.)

It is depressing, but true, that many reforms introduced in the name of child protection involve sweeping attacks on fundamental Anglo-American legal rights and safeguards, such as the presumption of innocence.

In a way I don’t disagree with this quote. It follows a strangely-worded rant about how the NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police, in a report on Operation Yewtree and, in particular, Jimmy Savile’s crimes, are calling the accusers ‘victims’ rather than ‘complainants’. It’s a fairly major step in terms of semantics.
I do firmly believe in the adage ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’, and this is a place where I really struggle. It’s said that one of the main reasons victims of rape or sexual abuse don’t come forward is because they are afraid they won’t be believed. They are ‘alleged victims’ and ‘complainants’, and in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ way of thinking there was no rape or abuse until a court of law has proved that it happened. This doesn’t seem right, but at the same time I can’t in good conscience advocate the switch around to ‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’. To me, the whole thing is so dangerously convoluted I don’t think I’ll work my thoughts out today, so I’m not going to dwell too long on it. What I am going to do is distract you with a subject change, then continue my reading of Hewson’s article. Charli has much clearer views on this issue, so I’ll eagerly await her comment, putting forth her better-structured opinions!
Mumsnet have a campaign entitled ‘We Believe You’. This campaign exists to support victims of rape and to break down rape myths.

Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.

I guess I’ve lost touch with reality… sexual assault on anyone (regardless of gender or age) is, in my eyes, a major crime. Arguably it is the fore-runner to rape and gang-rape, if we’re going to simplify things to a hierarchy of criminal activity. To say to a child or teenager ‘don’t make a fuss dear, it was only a little bit of groping – at least he didn’t rape you’ is tantamount to saying ‘you’re a sexual object for men to do with as they wish; let go of whatever self-worth you had and accept the abuse. The fact that you don’t want it to happen is irrelevant.’ I am not cool with that. I am incredibly not cool with that. I, and every man, woman and child on this earth has the right not to be sexualised against their will.

As for Hewson’s ‘regrettable necessities’, let’s take a look at them one by one…

It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest.

She’s talking about Operation Yewtree… I’m pretty sure it does have something to do with justice. Children have been assaulted, have lived their lives with this hanging over them, afraid to come forward and speak against a tv star. Undoubtedly their lives have been affected by what happened to them and they bloody well deserve justice. It doesn’t undo what happened to them, but it’s the right thing. Lessons have to be learnt from the things that were allowed to happen; those criminals still alive need to be brought to justice for the crimes they committed (if proven by a court of law they actually happened, but that’s what the justice system is for.)

Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime.

I do think people wear their ‘victimhood’ as a shield at times, but having never been a victim of that nature of crime I can’t possibly say I wouldn’t do the same. Making today’s yougnsters responsible for protecting themselves against the unwanted attentions of people in positions of power, on the other hand, is preposterous. How is the molestation of a 9 year old down to the child to prevent rather than the molester? Children should be aware that there are some bad people in the world, but they shouldn’t have to live in fear and paranoia. There should be no ‘compromising situations’. Celebrities should not be allowed to use their position to shame/intimidate children into being abused and remaining quiet about it.

As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity;

…and force more victims to not report their assault/rape for fear of repercussions? This is such a dangerous suggestion, more likely to allow crimes like those of Jimmy Savile and associates to remain hidden than to do anyone any good.

introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions;

Just because a crime happened 20 years ago does not make it any less of a crime today. Speak to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster. Sexual abuse is such an awful, life-affecting thing to be put through, it can take the victims a long time to come to terms with what happened to them. As much as I would wish all victims could report it as soon as it’s happened, realistically this does not and will not happen.

and reduce the age of consent to 13.

No. Just no. As I wrote at the top – the average girl does not reach sexual maturity until 15 or 16, boys tend to be a year behind. Allowing/encouraging sexual activity to happen at 13 (the average age of a girl’s first period and a boy’s first ejaculation, and thus the age the average child is able to make a baby) is just madness. At 13, most children are simply not ready for the complications that come with sex; family planning, STDs, what is and isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ (horribly vague terms, I know, but this isn’t the place to talk about what’s wrong or right between consensual adult partners…)

To conclude; Barbara Hewson’s article represents one of the worst pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time – her thoughts and ideals just strike me as unimaginably wrong, and I can’t help but to wonder whether she has a 13 year old daughter.

Let children grow up in their own time. Let them reach adulthood (be that 16 or 18 – I’m still unsure) in their own time, and for pity’s sake protect them from predators. Gavel!

Discuss…

Materialistic Reviewsday

In this week’s reviewsday I’d like to invite you all into my life for a little while. It’s probably not the done thing, but this week we’re going to get a little bit materialistic. I want to review my 6 favourite things.

Now, I’m going to have to remove anything living – clearly my absolute favourite things are my family – human and various other mammals. I’m just looking at things that I can say I legally possess and could possibly dig out a receipt for (or the gift tag… some were presents). I’m also going to try to avoid anything too specific; these should all be accessible to other peoples, should they want to fill their lives with stuff I like! And yes, that would be SO weird. Please don’t do it.

Last disclaimer – this list is in no particular order, save for the order these things came to my mind. I guess it’s a case of the obvious ones first and the more obscure ones after…

1 – My car
Honda cr-v 4x4 car
Yeah, we’re starting with the biggie. I love my car. I started learning to drive when I was 17 and my Mum let me drive her Fiesta around a car park.
Years passed; I got my licence (2nd attempt) and was lucky enough to be in the situation where my Mum’s old Fiesta was looking for a new home. Thus began ten years of Fiesta-driving. In that time I had three different Fiestas; a little dark blue one which served me until my first and only car crash whilst I was behind the wheel. (We had to threaten him with a court case, but the arse driving the other car eventually admitted liability.) After that, and because of that, came a little dark red number which saw me to the end of uni and into my first job. Once I got a job I decided to upgrade to a newer model Fiesta in a gleaming black and all was well… Until the ferrets moved in.
It is impossible to fit a 100cm show cage in the back of a Fiesta, and it’s a right bugger to have to move eight ferrets around in a cat carrier, so this February I decided enough was enough and I part-exchanged my trusty Fiesta for a gas guzzling Honda CR-V. And I love it! From the rumble of its diesel engine to the HUGE bootspace, from the many secret storage spaces to the actual picnic table, it’s perfect. Sure it’s not quite as nippy on the corners as the Fiesta, but I needed a bit of slowing down if I’m going to be honest with you.
It’s more than just a big, shiny, grey thing. My car is very much my safe place. Always has been – if life feels a bit shitty I can go for a drive no matter the weather or the time of day. In my car I can crank my music up loud and belt out my frustrations, or simply just warble along happily if things happen to be going well. In my car I can go wherever I want (within reason) whenever I want. I can see my wonderful family, be they 10 minutes up the road, an hour away or further. I can take the ferrets to various country shows, or I can take HollyDog for a walk somewhere more exciting than the town we live in. My car is my freedom and that’s pretty much why it was the first thing to come to mind.

2 – My books
books
For longer than I can remember I have been a reader. It’s just always felt good – to get lost in a book, devouring the words, the characters, the worlds, the plots. It’s why I’m a writer. Part of being a constant reader is my collection of books. Every room of my house has at least a small pile of books in it. Most are in the little spare room, which may be barely big enough to swing a cat, but it’s certainly big enough to shove two overflowing bookcases into. More recently read books, and books yet to be started are in my bedroom. Books I want visitors to see are in the lounge whilst cookery books are in the kitchen (yeah, that’s sort of a given!) There are even books in the bathroom; reading in the bath does come with some risks, but it’s a must!
Amongst my books are old favourites which I could read from cover to cover again and again, never growing tired of. There are harder books which I finished and set aside, declaring I would rather not face again. There are epic serieses which took many, many months to get through, and small volumes which were finished in a single sitting. These books have made me laugh, made me cry and made me wish more than anything that I too could commit my words to paper. It is a matter of great pride that my bedside table contains a copy of the 400-page paperback which bears my name.
If I didn’t have my books to read I don’t think I would be the person I am today. I’d live I’d find other things to occupy my mind, but I’d be missing a large part of who I am.

3 – My Laptop
packard bell laptop red
This, sort of, follows on from my books. My laptop contains a lot of things which I value very highly. If this list were in order of irreplacable sentimental worth, the laptop would take the top spot. It contains my photographs, it contains my videos and it contains my words. Hundreds of thousands of typed words live in this machine. I have some of it backed up, but not enough that I wouldn’t mourn if this computer died tonight. Ever since I first had my own desktop PC (just the year before I got my car, I believe) I started writing this one story. There’s a girl, a boy, and a lot of dragons. The other details have changed with the years and the numerous re-tellings, and many other story ideas have bloomed. Word document after word document sit on this hard drive containing the beginnings of stories my mind wanted to tell. Most will never be finished, but they wait, just in case I return to them one day.
As well as my words, my laptop contains my link to the world. The internet, and with it Facebook, Skype, Hotmail and YouTube, not to mention my new friend WordPress. Without this laptop I don’t know what my life would be – I’d either get out more, or you’d find me sat in a corner rocking and talking to my imaginary friends!

4 – My mini-Dishwasher
table top dishwasher
Not much I can say here – this is for reasons of pure laziness! I don’t like washing up; it takes too long and I can think of so many things I’d rather do. My kitchen isn’t huge, so there’s no room for a proper size dishwasher, but as there’s only one of me I don’t make enough mess to fill a proper size dishwasher. That’s about it!

5 – Bath foam collection
bath products
I like a bath. I have quite a few baths. Admittedly this is because the shower in my bathroom does not work, so I need to have regular baths to keep clean! More than anything, however, I like to make the most of my bath. This includes music, a book (or a podcast) and lots and lots of bubbles. I don’t mind the flavour, I just like me a bubble bath. Alternatively a bath bomb will do – some sort of potion or unguent in the water making everything fizzy and aromatic and I’m a relaxed and happy bunny.
I can’t claim to have the busiest or hectic-est of lives; I’m not chasing around after children or juggling a billion social activities, but I do get aches and stresses and tired, and a good bath goes a long way to easing those aches, stresses and tireds.

6 – iPod
iPod
Last, but not least is my trusty iPod (or mp3 player of choice). It’s a good few years old now, and has a crack across the bottom of the screen from where I dropped it, but it’s definitely one of my favourite gadgets. I work in an office. For the past 6 and a half years I’ve worked in offices, albeit different rooms with different colleagues. The problem with offices is that some people work better with background noise, and others prefer silence. I’m one of the former category, needing some sort of noise to be happening. However offices generally seem to cater for the second group. So in comes the iPod – one ear in, one out so I don’t miss anyone talking to me, and I get to work to my own soundtrack. Likewise on the few rare occasions I go to London I can take my own soundtrack with me onto the tube, walking round the tourist-filled streets. Away from the Capital I can plug my iPod into my car, thanks to a nifty radio transmitter, and I can listen to my music as I travel. I don’t know why music’s so important, but I know I’m not such a huge fan of silence, and I’ve yet to find a rado station which doesn’t begin to annoy me after a short while. With my iPod I can skip and skip and skip until I find a track suited to my mood. I can block the world out, I can seek inspiration or motivation, and I don’t have to share with the worldd whatever highly unfashionable tune I’m listening to!

There we are – these are a few of my favourite things, along with related images. If you’d like to share your materialistic happy places, please do, otherwise I’ll see you in the next blog!

The Power of Procrastination

It’s been a little while since my last post… I’ve missed two articles. I could give you excuses – I was ill at the beginning of last week, and commuting to and from London every day. I was busy at the weekend; racing ferrets on the Saturday and at a family gathering on the Sunday. I could tell you I just lost track of time; I was busy or tired. I forgot.

The real truth of it is that something else came up. Something more exciting than blogging. So I did that, and not this.

I thought I would feel guilty, but I don’t. The blog was created as a place for me to get my thoughts and feelings out and arranged in sentences and paragraphs. I invited my best friend to join in and we invited our friends and families (and random strangers on the internet) to have a read. I hugely value the people who do take the time to read it, but given our massive range of topics, I don’t feel we owe regular articles, but it was sort of a personal challenge to myself to keep up a steady stream of content.

So I figured I would put my procrastination to better use by telling you all what it is that has caught my attention. It involves my fantastic fellow Gaveller, but I don’t think she’ll object to my telling you.

I’m writing a book.

In fact, I’m writing my second book.

This book, like the first, is only expected to have a print-run of 5. That’s 5 copies of the book. Hardly the next Harry Potter. It’s not even a novel; it’s going to be a collection of short stories. I’ve tried writing full length novels but it all comes back to this wonderful thing called Procrastination. I can’t keep focused on one thing for as long as writing an entire book takes.

So last year, in the post-Christmas lull, whilst discussing our convergent tastes in music, Charli and I decided that for Christmas 2012 we would write each other a book. We decided to pick 20 songs we particularly liked, and to write a short story for each song, then to compile them into actual manuscripts to be sent to CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing company (many other self-publishing companies are available) and we would gift one another a specially written book for Christmas.

And we did. And it was fantastic.

So we’re doing it all again this year, except we left it until mid-late April to definitely decide we were doing it again. I’ve spent a lot of time this past fortnight putting together a spreadsheet (because all projects in my life have to start with a spreadsheet!) and coming up with basic outlines for my 20 stories. Last year we were constricted on the music front with a date range of 5 years from which to pick our songs. This year we have free rein on the music, but have to include 50 dares in our stories. This means a lot more planning is required!

Exciting, eh? Can you understand why that, coupled with the aforementioned illness and London-based training has meant I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from blogging?

But I’m back now, determined to continue, regardless of exciting new projects. Two blog posts a week isn’t too much to commit to, especially when one of them is a review, and so doesn’t require me to be up in arms about any one thing.

It’s a personalised gavel this week; aimed at myself, rather than the world I so often try to right.

Giving up is not cool; sometimes things aren’t easy, or seem for a moment uninteresting, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to put them aside in favour of something else. Work at it, find inspiration and motivation and keep at it. It’s quite possible you’ll refind your stride. And if you don’t, well quitting when you know you’ve tried your utmost is much better than quitting at the first sign of trouble.*

Gavel!

Discuss…

*Disclaimer: If trying your utmost is likely to cause damage to you, to someone else, or to our own wellbeing, then don’t. It’s important to recognise when something is a lost cause, and when something still holds so much potential. For me this blog still has a lot it can offer me, just as I still have a lot I can offer it. Other situations might not benefit from such perseverance…

Musical Reviewsday

Musical Reviewsday

As promised last month – I’m going to make my musical reviewsday a fairly regular thing. The only trouble is that iTunes’s charts are pretty rubbish. The two genres I reviewed last month are pretty much unchanged. I find this very strange – 4 or 5 weeks have passed and people are still buying what they were buying back then? Anyway – that ruled out re-reviewing Alternative or Comedy music. As I’m currently in the middle of a week of looooong days, commuting into London each day for a training course, and I’m also suffering from a particularly annoying cough, I’m only going to pick one genre to review, and it’s gotta be
Rock. Even though I could very easily go to sleep right now and a bit of high-octane rock music sounds to be the opposite of what I want… That said, a quick sweep of the eyes over the US and UK rock charts suggests there may be something awry with their genre-classifications. But we’ll get to that…

Let’s get on with it, eh?

10 – Smooth Criminal – Alien Ant Farm
We appear to be starting in the nineties… No, wait, youtube says 2001, so it’s only 12 years old. Gawd, this is TEN years old… But yeah, anyone who was a teenager in the early 2000s will know this punk-rock offering; it’s catchy, it’s designed to be played loudly, there’s a guitar solo in the middle and a chimp in the video; what more could you ask for?!? I can’t believe there aren’t any newer rock songs to keep this out of the top ten, but I’m not complaining. At least it’s rock.

9 – Iris – Goo Goo Dolls
I love this song, but I don’t think I’d call it rock. Pop, maybe. Yeah, the pointy-faced John Rzeznik has a gravelly voice and there are guitars and drums, but really is this rock? I really do love the song though. For a long time it was my mobile phone ringtone (now it’s Back In Black, unless you’re special and have a different tune assigned to you…) and so whenever I hear it I am reminded of my old ringtone.
Again, though, it’s an old song. 2006. To be number 9 in the Rock charts on the evening of the 23rd April 2013 is a little bit odd. I’m growing slightly mistrustful of iTunes and their chartability.

8 – The Man Who Can’t Be Moved – The Script
Well, this is more modern… ish… 2008 – so not by much. As with Iris I’m half tempted to put it in pop rather than rock. It’s strange to look at a video of a pre-Voice Danny-from-the-Script. I think I would’ve liked them better ten years ago. Now I like the occasional song (Hall of Fame’s great for a sunny car drive) but their ballads, this one included, strike me as a bit whiny. I think I overdid the boyband ballads when I was a wee teeniebopper and I’m over them now. Maybe I’ll go full circle one day and be a crooning woman of her fifties, listening to Westlife and reminiscing about the good ol’ days, but for now Danny and his fellow Scripters aren’t really my cup of tea.

7 – I Will Wait – Mumford and Sons
This is Alternative. This is not Rock. I’m stamping my foot on this one. Of course that might be because I’m keeping time in the traditional folksy manner… I do love this song; from the furious banjo-ing to the simple-yet-lovely chorus. It’s bright (a lot of the Mumford & Sons songs have a tendency to err toward the solemn) and just brings a smile to my face, and I love that. I also like it because Mumford and Sons are one of the few bands I can listen to and say, sagely, ‘I’ve seen them live,’ as if that elevates me to the next level of fan status. Even though I only bought their latest album, Babel, last week when it’s been out for month already. Doesn’t matter that I was late; I saw them live once!

6 – God is Dead? – Black Sabbath
Something new… and it’s by Black Sabbath… I could not have predicted this chart, even if I’d had weeks to sit and think about what would be in the rock charts. It’s a proper old-fashioned rock song – it’s almost nine minutes long, and the first minute of that is introduction! I only know one Black Sabbath song – the same one I’m guessing most of you know, but it took no time at all to recognise the dulcet tones of one Mr Ozzy Osbourne once the singing started. It’s ok, I guess; would fit on any 70s/80s rock compilation album. At least it’s a rock song, I guess – can’t complain about this one being too pop or too alternative!!!

5 – Flame-Out! – Paul Weller
As with Black Sabbath, here’s someone else more commonly found on TOTP2’s late night replays, and yet the song is so new only half of it is on the youtube page of its singer, Paul Weller. It’s ok, I guess – not really my sort of thing; the vocals aren’t fab, and I’m not really that desperate to hear anything else from the upcoming album.

4 – Better Together – Jack Johnson
Meanwhile, back in the world of Should-Have-Been-On-the-Alternative-Chart…In-2005. It’s a looooovely song, it’s just not what I’d geared myself up for. In fact this whole chart just seems to be a random collection of songs which really don’t fit together. I remember the Alternative lot from last time being very much of that genre. The comedy too, although the definition of ‘comedy’ seemed to be ‘from youtube’ rather than anything broader.

3 – Don’t Save Me – Haim
I’ve heard the name ‘Haim’, but had never listened to the female trio until now. I’m pleasantly surprised, although that might be because they’re the first thing I’ve heard this evening which I would class as modern group playing a rock song! That said, I could imagine this playing over a John Hughes movie… The undertones and the repetitive chorus are a little bit 80s…

2 – Low – Sleeping with Sirens
And THIS is what I was expecting of this particular chart – the fast-paced, angsty, angry rock music of this modern age. I was imagining I would find 30 Seconds to Mars, My Chemical Romance, Bullet for My Valentine and bands of that ilk – not this confused collection of tracks… As for the song – it’s ok; hasn’t changed my world, but I wasn’t driven to turn it off… Meh, I guess is the right term.

1 – Falling – Haim
Back to our 80s-esque trio of long-haired girl-types for the number one entry. This offering also sounds like it could have been released 30 years ago; I can see my younger self finding it on an old compilation cd and dancing round the lounge to it. The video for this song is particularly odd – again I want to suggest it’s a little dated.

At the end of this foray into ‘rock’, I’m really rather confused. I don’t know what iTunes classes as Rock, and I don’t know who’s buying these songs… Nothing makes sense to me. Maybe it’s the tiredness talking, or maybe this IS what the modern rock fan listens to. It’s been an interesting journey through this chart – not as inspiring as the Alternative chart, not as amusing as the Comedy chart. Rock sort of feels like the chart time forgot.

I think I need a lie down…

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