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

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

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!

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…

Reviewsday – Fantasy Lands

You find yourself in front of seven identical doors.

A voice from above tells you :
“These seven doors lead to seven places :
Narnia, Neverland, Wonderland, Hogwarts,
Camelot, Middle Earth, and Westeros.”
Which door do you go through?
Why that door? What happens?

I saw the above image on facebook about 6 weeks ago, and have spent a long while thinking about it. Writing last week’s rant on the women of Westeros brought it back to me that, as a very-nearly-28 year old woman, there are many fantasy worlds I simply wouldn’t have a great time visiting. So this week’s review is going to be a look at the above listed fantasy places/lands from the perspective of me; a 28 year old female of the human persuasion. Think of it as a semi-realistic take on the common fanfiction trope, the Mary-Sue.

Narnia
Narnia’s a vast land with a vast history. I’m going to go with the Narnia from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a point in time, and the lamppost as a location. It just seems right. Ok, so it’s cold, and there aren’t many people about, but as a Mary-Sue I’d probably be found by a friendly fawn, nymph or dryad. Assuming I managed to befriend them I’d fall into the whole Aslan vs Jadis plot. Not being one of four children, two girls and two boys, I wouldn’t fall prey to the whole destined-monarchy system, but I could at least help out in the coming battle. Assuming I entered Narnia at the same time as the Pevensie children, I would be too old to consider any romantic entanglement with one of them. It’s possible I could be drafted into Aslan’s army as a defender of the good, maybe strike up a more-than-friendship with one of the fawns and live there forever with my little half-goat babies… Unless Jadis turned me to stone first, or I fell in battle.
I’d probably fall in battle…

Neverland
This one’s hard. I don’t even know how I would get to Neverland… Fly of course! Except I have a feeling that would only work for kids – my cynical adult brain would hamper my happy thoughts, and I’d need rather a lot of pixie dust. Once there I couldn’t go to join the Lost Boys – I’m far too old and no amount of Mary-Sueing could make that work, so instead my choices are to join Tiger Lily and her peoples, or to turn Pirate… I could probably make my peace with turning pirate.

Wonderland
I don’t want to go to Wonderland. Simple as that. I’ve just never really been into the Alice stories. I remember watching the films and just being a bit ‘meh’. I think if I ended up in Wonderland somehow I’d probably just sit in a corner (are there corners?) desperate for it all to be over…

Hogwarts
It was thinking about my role in Hogwarts which broke my spirit a little bit. I couldn’t be a student. Of course I couldn’t be a student. I’m by far out of that age range. My adventuring years (in terms of child/young-adult fantasy stories) are over. I’m now only fit to be a teacher. I tried to console myself with the thought that I can pick my subject, but the horrible realisation is that 28 year old women probably wouldn’t make good Hogwarts teachers. They sleep in the school. They eat, drink and breathe in the school. It’s a fine place to be if you want to completely devote 10 or 11 months of the year to schooling; only going home at Christmas and the Summer, but that means you only friends are school teachers (and those in canon weren’t particularly youthful.) What do the teachers do with their summer holidays? Return to their almost estranged spouses/empty houses? How can they raise families when they’re off in some remote Scottish castle almost all the time? Because of this I just can’t find a place in Hogwarts – it’s too secluded and cut off from the world. In the Potterverse as a whole I’d have some cool Ministry job and adventures would ensue – it’s as similar to our world as I’m likely to get in this list, so my life wouldn’t be drastically different.

Camelot
There are far too many versions of the Arthur/Merlin story. I’m going to assume we’re sticking to the recent BBC tv show where it’s all rather civilised. This is made extra easy by the fact that I’m actually around the same age as the main actors. Assuming the characters match the actors’ ages, I’m older than Merlin and younger than Arthur, Gwen and Morgana. The trick is just to figure out where I would fit. I’ve heard the complaint before that the show ‘Merlin’ was a bit of a boys’ club. Can’t really argue with that, as much as I loved watching it and would like to defend it. Gwen rarely went out on the adventures, and Morgana was the twisted, psychotic witch (with some degree of reason – she wasn’t always that way). It was always about Merlin and Arthur, with a varying number of knights thrown in. Ideally I’d like to be some sort of good witch, perhaps who works with Merlin on occasion, or a Laydee of Court, hiding her magics, but that’s assuming I gained magical powers in the journey from this world to theirs… The role of illicit sorceror working for the power of good is taken by Merlin, so isn’t really required. At the very least I’d be able to set up house somewhere; running or working at a shop in Camelot, or a farm outside the city walls. I could do well for myself, perhaps even bag a knight and become a fancy kept woman, yearning for adventure and slowly growing resentful as my good sir husband kept returning from dramatic trips, telling his tales of excitement in far off lands. Sounds wonderful(!)

Middle Earth
Oh good lord – I wouldn’t even get a name if I lived in Middle Earth. The male to female ratio of the books (and films) is weighted substantially in the favour of the menfolk. Unless I pulled an Eowyn, I’d be hiding in some caves whilst boys just over half my age went out to battle. There are very few places for womenfolk in Tolkien’s epic saga. The Fellowship are men, the people they meet are predominantly male.

Westeros
And here we are, back in last Thursday’s rant… In Westeros, if I hadn’t already been married off to whoever would have me, I’d probably be facing a bit of rape and murder. The seven kingdoms are at war and there are armies storming all over the place doing unthinkable things to everyone they meet. Seriously I’d highly likely be dead by now. There are female characters, though, so there’s more likelihood I’d actually get to play a role in plotty things than there is in the Lord of the Rings. I wouldn’t get to be the hero, but then there are so many characters I’m not sure I could tell you who the hero actually is!
Assuming I rocked up in the world at the beginning of book one, before everything fell apart, my badly-written-fanfic mind would throw me into some sort of noble role so as to give me a little protection from the impending awfulness. The problem is there are so many places I’d want to be… and so many I’d want to steer very well clear of. Regardless of where I ended up, I’d see lots of awful things and most likely end up beheaded, even though a Mary Sue version of me would totally save one character from dying and then be the other side of the country helping out another. Gotta love Mary Sue powers of just fixing everything!

Reviewsday – Video Games

This could be fun… Y’see, I’m not really a hardcore gamer; I couldn’t tell you the history of the Zelda games from their first outing on the N64 or the GameCube or whatever. I only recently started thinking of myself as a gamer. So, similarly to last week’s story of how I got into ferret-keeping, I figured I’d tell you a bit about my gaming history, then give you a review of the games I own/play.

A very quick trip through my gaming history actually starts quite early on. It all started on the PC with Disney platform games – I particularly remember Aladdin and the Lion King as being particularly great. After them, Mum used to buy computing magazines (I don’t know whether it was personal interest, because she worked in computers, or a bit of both) which had free game discs on the front and contained a ton of free demos. One of the best games I can remember was one called Tyrion, It was just an up-scrolling spaceship-flying and shooting game, but you could modify your ship, and you could pick up all manner of weaponry. (And I wonder why I turned out to be such a geek…!) Next up came Theme Hospital (which I still think is a fantastic game), Theme Park World, Zoo Tycoon, Lemmings 3d and Sim City (not sure which one) which then led to The Sims, The Sims 2, The Sims 3, Age of Empires, Age of Mythology and a few others along the way. So you get the point – I was always a gamer, I just didn’t realise it!

My break from the PC came in the form of the original bulky GameBoy. My brother had the grey one and I had the yellow one (Donkey Kong edition) and so I found Super Mario Bros (which I had played before – our childminder had a Nintendo console so we’d played games on that on occasion.) and eventually Pokemon.

Moving through time to uni I treated myself to a DS… this may have been because I was working in a Virgin Megastore and I had a little crush on my colleague who usually ran the games section. The DS came with Nintendogs, but my time was mostly wasted on Mario Kart!

After uni I bought my first console – the Nintendo Wii. Yeah. The least gamer-y games console. I didn’t know then that it was all about Playstation vs Xbox. I just knew I wanted a Wii Fit, because it would totally make me thin.

It didn’t. But the Wii did prove to be rather amusing. I had my beloved Mario Kart, not to mention a couple of musical games; Guitar Hero 3, Rock Band, and a particularly addictive game called Kororinpa, where you have to guide a marble around a track using the motion-sensitive wii-mote. It was fun, but I wanted something more.

Something more came at the end of November 2011, in the form of a super shiny Xbox360. I didn’t even consider the PS3; my co-Gaveller and her husband had (still have) an Xbox, and so I’d already been treated to some multi-player (co-op) first person shooters (FPSs) with them, as well as some throat-damaging games of Lips (which we still indulge in to this day – I’m particularly proud of my operatic abilities on songs from Phantom of the Opera).

And that is how I got to where I am today, so let’s get to the important bit;

The Games
(These are probably in the order I got them, but that’s going by a rather shaky memory…)

1 – Fallout New Vegas
This came with the console, and for a long while was the only real game I had (with the exception of the demos/arcade games which came pre-installed…) and came highly recommended. My fellow Gaveller, Charli, is a fan of the Fallout games, and so I expected to enjoy it. Sadly I just didn’t get it. I figured out how to move the character, how to shoot things and how to interact with people, I just didn’t get on board with the story, and compounded things further by managing to open a door into a corridor full of badguys where the game autosaved. I died over and over and over… It was not a good moment.
I’m sure if I return to FNV at some point, now I’m a year and four months into gaming, I’ll probably get on with it a bit better.

2 – Dragon Age : Origins + Dragon Age II
Ah, Dragon Age : Origins, anoher game which came highly recommended by my good friend and cousin. This time, however, I was not disappointed. Confusion at how a grown woman could become lost for days in a video game suddenly became understanding. My favourite thing about the two Dragon Age games (plus downloadable content (DLC)) is that you can do what you want; follow the main quests or faff about with side quests, but it wasn’t so big that I felt I was getting lost/wasn’t really sure what the main plot was, as with FNV. An added bonus is the sheer variety of characters you can play; each with their own starting point and personal drama. You could play the game half a dozen times and have a different experience each time round. It’s magnificent!
Dragon Age 3 is on its way, and I’ll be there on release day, eagerly awaiting my Mage’s staff or my Warrior’s two handed battle axe, or my Rogue’s bow and arrows.

3 – Mass Effect 1 + 2 + 3
Following my enjoyment of BioWare’s Dragon Age games, Charli’s husband recommended I give Mass Effect a go. This was around the time the third installment was released. I played all three games pretty much nonstop, whenever I wasn’t at work – and I think it’s fair to say I loved them a little bit more than I loved Dragon Age. Why? The single character through the entire trilogy was wonderful. Ok, your DA:O character was mentioned in DAII, but it’s not the same as taking the same Commander Shepard (male or female, it’s up to you!) through three games, with mostly the same companions. It just gave so much more satisfaction when you got to five-minutes-before-the-end. (We don’t talk about the last five minutes. They were shockingly awful, and almost enough to ruin the rest of the trilogy… but the internet is full of people explaining why the end of ME3 is so terrible. The end of ME2, however, is perfect on SO MANY levels!)

4 – Enslaved
I wish I could talk more about this. The premise is fascinating, the character looks like a bulked up Puck from Glee and the game play is both exciting and fun… I just had other games to play, so haven’t really gotten too far with this yet…

5 – Halo 3 ODST + Halo 4 & 6 – Gears of War 3
Once more I have to point the finger of blame at Charli and her husband. I played a fair amount of co-op GOW (1 or 2… maybe 3) with her husband over the years, and so when I got myself an Xbox Live Gold membership and I had to get something with multi-player so we could go on gun-toting space rampages from our own living rooms. This quest led to both GOW3 and Halo 3 (except I accidentally got the ODST version, which seems to be something quite different to actual Halo 3!) and, more recently, Halo 4. I’ve not really played any of them on single player due to the next game on my list, but GoW3 has provided some great team battles in its Horde setting; the three of us against wave after wave of enemy aliens. Great stuff!

7 – Skyrim
I bought Skyrim for two reasons. One – Charli loved it, and she’s occasionally right about these things. Two – Toby Turner (you might remember him from my top 10 youtube channels, or from my review of the comedy charts) was playing it on his TobyGames youtube channel, and after watching a couple of hundred ten-minute videos of someone playing a video game, I began to wonder whether I could do better (not better, but probably not worse!)
After my rocky start with Bethesda’s FNV, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to play Skyrim. I liked the comfort of Dragon Age and Mass Effect; it wasn’t just a case of getting from A to B, but there was a plot and an ultimate goal. I was wary that Skyrim would be as massive and bewildering as FNV. Now, I didn’t get so far in FNV, but I can tell you Skyrim definitely is massive. It’s an entire world, and more than that it’s an entire world and you can get to pretty much every part of it. And yeah, it’s a bit bewildering; there isn’t just one main plot with random side quests; the random side quests spawn off some fairly hefty sub-quests which can divert your attention completely from the main quest. You can do as I did in my current playthrough and blitz the main quest before you reach level 14, then saunter around all filled with bad-assery following up every other quest (and killing dragons left, right and centre) to your heart’s content, or you can take Charli’s latest route and nonchalantly leave the main quest until you can be bothered with it. Either way – the options are endless. With Skyrim you’re in it for the long haul. In a recent conversation with a Game store employee I declared Skyrim to be un-completeable; not because it’s impossible, but because there are so many re-spawning events (dead dragons/giants are replaced by new ones, there are always bandits and wolves out for your blood) and the top level (81, I believe) is so far away from my current standing in the early-mid twenties, that I still have so many skills I need to improve!

8 – Portal 2
My most recent purchase is another Toby Turner inspired move. (Yeah, it’s the guy in the games department all over again; equally as unattainable, albeit a little further away!) It may seem a bit silly; buying a game I’ve already watched someone else complete, but I actually really like this game, and it’s a good balance against Skyrim. With Skyrim I know I’m anchored to the controller until the batteries die or I realise I have to be up for work in five hours. With Portal 2 it’s a series of puzzles, so there are regular points where I can save and step away. Even if I wasn’t a puzzle addict, the ongoing commentries of GlaDos and Wheatley are incredibly amusing. The former hates me for destroying her in Portal (which I haven’t played) and the latter, voiced by Stephen Merchant, seems to be trying to help me. Between them, and my trusty orange and blue portal gun, I’m working my way through some sort of delapidated testing complex. Much fun!

Reviewsday – Ferrets

I’m not just a blogger. Those of you who paid attention during my blog post on charitable giving will know I’m also a volunteer for a local charity. As I’ve just spent Saturday and Monday out with the other STA Racers, I figured it would be a good idea to tell you all about it. So what I’m going to do is to give you an introduction to the rescue, to the events we do and then I’m going to get on to a review of my ferrets!

Yes. Ferrets.

STA Rescue exists in two branches; one based in Basingstoke and taking in all manner of small animal, and one based in Sonning focusing solely on ferrets. It’s the latter branch that I am affiliated with. I’m not able to be involved with the day-to-day running of the rescue, the taking in, treating/socialising, and rehoming of the ferrets because I spend my weeks sat in an office, pouring over reams of programming code. As soon as I win that big lottery draw,,, Anyhoo, the part I play is one of fundraising and public relations. As a rescue, it takes a fair bit of funding to help the ferrets who end up at STA. They need food, water and shelter at the very least. Many of them need medical help; anything from a quick check up to serious surgery (last year they had a lovely albino come in with a severely damaged jaw, and a polecat-coloured ferret with a broken leg – both of these were treated and brought back to full health) which can cost a fair bit of money. Not to mention all adult ferrets are castrated or neutered. So we need to raise the funds to support this. We also want to show people that ferrets are not smelly, bitey monsters only suited for shoving down rabbit holes; they can be wonderful pets.

So what we do is come out to various country fairs, brownie meetings, corporate functions, weddings etc and we put on some ferret races. We let members of the public meet our own pet ferrets and we talk about them and we stage races on our very own custom-made race course. It ticks every box; we get to raise a bit of money, we raise awareness of the charity and we can tell people how awesome ferrets are!

Here is a short video showing some of my ferrets over the course of a race day.

Now, without further ado, I want to take you through the nine ferrets currently sharing my house/garden. This will be in order of acquisition (because there are no favourites!)

1 & 2 – Kip and Flynn
Kip and Flynn baby ferrets
Kip and Flynn were the first two ferrets I got from STA in the summer of 2011. I’d had ferrets before but was ferretless at the time. A local ferret breeder who breeds his own line of working ferrets, had been resting his jill (female ferret) between litters. Except she had decided that wasn’t the best idea, and had broken out of her cage and into her brother’s cage. And so Kip and Flynn were born, along with their brothers and sisters. Not wanting inbred kits to go to un-checked homes where they could be bred from, the breeder handed them in to the rescue. All ferret kits from STA are rehomed on the basis that they will be spayed/castrated.
Kip and Flynn are both named after fictional characters. Kip was named for Kip “Half-Sack” Epps, a Prospect in the early series’ of Sons of Anarchy. Flynn was named for Flynn Rider, the dashing anti-hero from Disney’s Tangled.

3 & 4 – India and Diesel
India ferret
Diesel ferret
The thing was, I didn’t want just two ferrets. They’re social creatures and they need to live with others. The problem with having two was that if anything terrible happened and I lost one, the other would have a rough time coping. So two weeks after taking Kip and Flynn home, I was back at the rescue, hauling India and Diesel out of a cage filled with unwanted kits (mostly albinos – they’re not the most popular colouring). Young ferrets tend to get on very well with other young ferrets, so there were no issues putting the new pair in with the slightly older pair.
India was named after a character I wanted to write, but couldn’t find a place for. Diesel was sort of named for Vin Diesel, but also because Diesel rhymes with Weasel, and that seemed a good enough logic.

My little fluffy family was complete – I had four beautiful little ferrets and spent the winter nip-training them (i.e. training them NOT to nip) and everything was lovely. There were no plans to get any more.

5 – Maisie
Maisie ferret
And then Maisie happened.
I had kept my eye on the STA website’s Rehoming page, just to see what fuzzies were in need of homes, but not expecting to be the one to provide said home. Maisie came in at the beginning of 2012, a little poley jill with a bit of an issue with the human peoples. We think she wasn’t handled at all for the first 6 months of her life, and this has left her very wary of humans, biting hard whenever she came into contact with one. She’d been rehomed by the rescue once before, and they’d done a lot of work to calm her down, but unfortunately they weren’t able to keep her. She wasn’t an ideal first-time ferret at all; definitely needing to go to someone with some experience. I happened to be popping into the rescue to hand Kip, Flynn and Diesel over to go off to the vets for their castrations and as I looked around the ferret shed I asked to see little Maisie. I’ll not say we clicked right away – that would be a lie, but I did know straight away that I wanted to take her home. India was on her own that night, and was still young enough to be receptive to a new ferret (jills can be a tad fussy about new girls joining their group) so it was decided I’d take Maisie back with me and we’d see how it went with the two girls.
It went perfectly; Indi welcomed Maisie without an issue. Maisie wasn’t so keen on me to start off with; backing off with a hiss whenever she saw me, but we worked on that. Ferrets are naturally very curious, and as she got used to the new place she started to be interested in the human that sometimes came in. Food helped too; and ferret oil; a mixture of food oils which is good for their coats, and they love the taste.
Even now, 14 months later, Maisie isn’t quite at ease with people; she will bite if she feels threatened, or if she’s had enough of being held, but I like to think we have an understanding.

I made this video in the spring of 2012;

6, 7 & 8 – Elliott, Ren and Marty.
Ren ferret
Elliott Marty ferrets
It was kit season. I got broody. There were kits needing homes… The best time to introduce new ferrets was while India (and the others, but mainly India as she had become the boss of the business) was young. So I welcomed three baby boys into my household. India beat them up a little bit, then decided they were ok, and so the boys moved in with the bigger ferrets. And that was that.
Names are 80s movies characters; Elliott from Pete’s Dragon (not ET), Ren from Footloose and Marty from Back to the Future.

9 – Merida
Merida ferret
It was the last big show of the 2012 season; and three 2 year old ferrets had been handed in, and were going to go in to the rescue. Their owner could no longer look after them. Three beautiful jills. The sandy one caught my eye and I figured, what’s 9, when 8 is no trouble?
We spent that night at my fellow Gaveller’s house and the new girl, named Merida for the fiesty Scottish Disney heroine, seemed to get on with Maisie and Diesel. The other boys liked her, but were a bit boistrous in their liking – flocking at her, and India – well, she wasn’t too impressed, but I thought time and some careful introductions would fix that. What I didn’t bank on was the power of home-turf. The first morning after the first night back at home I found Merida none-too-happy, keeping her distance from Diesel and Maisie. One of them had been ragging her (biting at the scruff and pulling around; it’s a dominance thing) and since then Merida’s been right off other ferrets. She’s spent 4 months as a lone ferret, and seems to be enjoying it. The times I’ve tried to re-introduce her to any of the others have ended with her screaming and displaying clear signs of fear, so I haven’t pushed it. So long as she’s given enough stimulation in the house, she should be ok, although a part of me is wondering whether she might accept a kit as a friend.

And that, in a nine-headed, thirty-six-footed nutshell is my ferrety family.

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