#oneaday, Day 348: End of the Year Show

So, 2010. Here we are. Your last day with us. You have a lot to answer for.

Actually, let me start.

Fuck you. I remember at the start of 2010 thinking “2009 sucked. 2010 will kick ass.” I can’t even remember why 2009 sucked so much now, such was the order of magnitude that your suckiness dwarfed it by.

Let’s keep score, shall we?

I started the year in a job that I wasn’t sure I wanted to do—an ill-advised return to school teaching on the suggestion of several people who thought I’d be good at primary school teaching, and that it might be less stressful than the horrors of secondary education.

They were wrong.

Given that the school I worked at was in what can politely be termed a “difficult area”, there were plenty of what can politely be termed “challenging pupils”. Most notable among them were a child who decided to spend one early morning Guided Reading session lying face-down on the floor screaming “PLEASE STOP THE PAKISTANI INVASION! PLEASE STOP THE PAKISTANI INVASION!” in a school that was probably made up of a good 60-70% of ethnic minority children, and the kid who liked to tear down wall displays, run out of the classroom and climb trees. It’s amusing now. It was less amusing at the time, and it should be pretty obvious that those kids have no place in mainstream education.

Also at the school, I went through an OfSTED inspection, where the school was judged to be “failing”. This is because it was judged on the same criteria as schools in affluent areas and therefore, unsurprisingly, came up somewhat short. I was referred to as “inadequate” by a person who had spent approximately ten minutes watching me teach, and I knew that I had to get out.

Fortunately, an ideal excuse for getting out came along in the form of PAX East in Boston, MA. I had never been to Boston, and I had never been to a video game convention. This was also going to be an opportunity to meet a huge number of the Squadron of Shame members face-to-face for the first time. I wasn’t about to pass that up, so I bought a ticket even before I’d quit my job.

I quit said job just in time to avoid having to go on a residential trip with the kids I’d come to resent so much and spent a blissful few days amongst my fellow nerds at PAX East and can honestly say that there are few occasions that I’ve ever felt happier than when I was there with my “people”. I wished it could go on forever, but sadly it couldn’t. And things were only going to get worse from hereon.

I worked for a few scattered days doing supply teaching, but wasn’t enjoying it at all, least of all the whole “get up early just in case there’s any work” arrangement, where every day led to the weighing up of emotional wellbeing and financial stability.

In late April, I turned 29. I was not in a good place mentally, so I didn’t feel much like celebrating at the time. I still don’t. Then in early May, everything changed. The one thing I thought I could count on—my home life, my marriage, the love I had—went away. There were many reasons for this and at this point it doesn’t do anyone any good to assign “blame” either way because things on both sides led to this point. I wish they hadn’t, but it seems that some things are supposed to happen, however painful they are.

And painful it was. The experience damn near destroyed me. I had whole days where I was completely unable to function. I had plenty of times when I wished everything would just go away, that I wouldn’t have to face these things any more. I went through all the however-many-stages-of-grief-there-are several times and am still jumping back and forth between them now. I resented everyone who told me that it would “just make me stronger” and put on a brave face for the public (and this blog, which I kept plugging away at even through those dark times) but appreciated those people who showed themselves to be true friends more than they could ever realise.

And all through this I was no closer to finding a job. I interviewed for a job I didn’t want and did well (though didn’t get it) and for a job I really did want and didn’t get that either. Eventually, the money ran out and I found myself having to move back home, an act which however you dress it to me and however necessary it was still feels like a punch in the face every time I wake up of a morning.

The holiday season came, and I spent it in the States with my brother and the rest of my family. This turned out to be a positive move, as I had the opportunity to meet up with a bunch of people and do what is commonly referred to as “professional networking”. I scored some freelance work out of the whole arrangement—freelance work that pays money, even.

Then I came home to discover a huge bill from the taxman thanks to some uncompleted self-assessment forms which I had no idea I was supposed to do and a podcast to edit whose audio files were ruined beyond repair. A final slap in the face from a shitty year? Let’s hope so.

During 2010, despite all this, I made some great friends through the #oneaday initiative, through Kombo.com, through The Big Pixels and through Twitter. I also successfully completed the Couch 2 5K running challenge, and have posted every day since the 19th of January on this blog. Those parts of the year I wouldn’t change. The rest can go F itself in the B.

2011 has a lot for me to look forward to. More freelance work, which I really enjoy, even the rewrites. The all-new One A Day Project, which I’m doing my best to co-ordinate. Hopefully a full-time job. And I’m praying for a lift out of the black pit that I’ve been sporadically stuck in since May. Can you be sporadically stuck in something?

Tonight I’m going down to Southampton to spend New Year’s Eve with one of those true friends I mentioned earlier. 2010, I shan’t be sorry to see you leave. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Actually, do. I’ve installed a spike on it, at just about ass-level. I hope you enjoy it. You cunt.

#oneaday, Day 347: The Christmas Charts

You’re looking for some new music, and you don’t know what is acceptable to listen to and/or share on various social networking sites. Well, let me come to the rescue, with some one-sentence reviews of the Top 20 tracks in the UK from Spotify. As the name implies, I will be reviewing all tracks using no more than one sentence.

Here we go! Hold tight! This is exciting!

20. Who’s That Chick? (Feat. Rihanna) by David Guetta

This track is not currently available in the United Kingdom.

19. Christmas Lights by Coldplay

This is a Christmas song which sounds like a Coldplay song, unsurprisingly, which means that it’s depressing as fuck and quite boring.

18. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday by Wizzard

If you don’t know this song, you have probably not been into a shop any time from October onwards in the last 30 years.

17. White Christmas by Bing Crosby

See number 18, but insert the words “in the evening” after the words “into a shop”.

16. Step Into Christmas by Elton John

A rock ‘n’ roll Christmas classic that thankfully eschews most of the Christmas clichés found in many other seasonal tracks—things like sleigh bells, bells, bell-ends… oh wait.

15. Just A Dream – Main by Nelly

I was enjoying this song until he started grunting and then singing.

14. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon

The song that usually plays towards the end of the Christmas school disco.

13. The Flood by Take That

This song sounds more like a Robbie Williams solo number than a traditional Take That track up until the first chorus—this is probably not a coincidence.

12. Many of Horror by Biffy Clyro

Groaning, whining misery—just the thing to tell 2010 to stick itself up its own arse and look forward to a bit more positivity.

11. All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey

The only Mariah Carey song I like—fact—despite taking in every single Christmas song cliché along the way.

10. Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl

I fucking hate this song with all its out-of-tune whingeing and supposed charm and wish it wouldn’t be played every ten seconds on the radio over the Christmas break.

9. Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars

To counter the cynicism from the previous items, I’ll say that I quite liked this one, particularly the drumbeat and the building drama in the backing.

8. Last Christmas by Wham!

Back at the school disco again.

7. Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade

I always get this muddled up with the track by Wizzard, thereby proving that all Christmas songs are the same.

6. The Time (Dirty Bit) by Black Eyed Peas

What is this I don’t even.

5. Firework by Katy Perry

Tuneful, predictable pop from the family-friendly slut.

4. Like A G6 by Far East Movement

The overpowering synth line thankfully mostly covers the awful one-note singing, babbling crap about drinking and “heeeealll yeeeeeah”s.

3. Only Girl (In The World) by Rihanna

It’s a Rihanna song which appears to take place in an early 90s German discotheque.

2. Your Song by Ellie Goulding

It’s Your Song by Elton John, now with added (or should that be removed?) dropped T-sounds, a questionable accent and a more melancholy, minimalist feel.

1. What’s My Name? by Rihanna

Your name is Rihanna, and this sounds very much like every other song you have ever recorded—but bonus points for the autotuned rapper guy who helpfully explains to us that the “square root of 64 is 8” (yes, really).

I can sum up this Top 20 in just one word. I don’t need a sentence.


Thank you and good night.

#oneaday, Day 346: In-Flight Entertainment

I’m back home in the UK. I am not best pleased about this, particularly as the arsehole taxman is being… well, an arsehole. But fuck him. I want to talk about the three movies I watched on the plane today.

Toy Story 3

It’s been ages since I saw either of the previous two Toy Story movies and I think it’s high time I watched them again before Disney pull their beyond-stupid “vault” bullshit and prevent you from being able to get a copy until a few years down the road.

The third movie has a bittersweet premise. Andy is all grown up and soon to be off to college, and it’s looking like the toys will be left behind. Through a series of mishaps, they find themselves donated to a local daycare centre where all is not as it seems. To share too much more would be to spoil the plot, but suffice to say the typical Pixar multi-layered humour is present and correct, with the sequences in the daycare centre being akin to any number of “prison escape” movies you might have seen in the past.

One thing that struck me throughout was how emotionally engaging the whole thing was. The characters are so great that you’re with them every step of the way, and at the times where they’re in danger, you really feel bad for them. But this being a Pixar movie, things resolve themselves suitably, and there’s a touching ending. I really enjoyed it—it was by turns hilarious, exciting, heartbreaking and the sort of movie that makes you smile. The quintessential Pixar movie, if you will.

Tamara Drewe

I knew very little about this film save having seen a trailer a few months back and read the blurb in the in-flight magazine. It actually turned out to be a great film, and not your typical romantic comedy that you might expect.

The tale centres around a small English country community which frequently plays host to a “writer’s retreat”, and much of the action revolves around the various characters changing affections for one another. There’s a lot of adultery and cheating going on, and people not being with who they “should” be with, not to mention the titular Tamara herself, who is back in the village of her youth after several years absence, sporting a nose job, a rockin’ bod and a teeny-tiny pair of denim shorts. In one scene, anyway.

There’s a whole bunch of parallel plots running alongside each other throughout this one, and the whole thing is tied up quite nicely by the end, complete with a few surprising twists. It’s not what I expected, and certainly not a typical romcom. It was genuinely amusing, filled with strong characters played by an excellent cast (nice to see Tamsin Greig pulling off a serious role with aplomb) and I’m glad I bothered to watch it.

Going the Distance

This, on the other hand, is a more typical romcom, though they take care to include characters and situations to appeal to both guys and girls.

Garrett and Erin meet in New York and hit it off. But—oh no!—Erin is returning to California in six weeks’ time. They decide to have a long-distance relationship, and discover all the usual pitfalls of such an arrangement. The twists and turns are pretty predictable, though the ending was a little different from what I expected.

Justin Long’s portrayal of Garrett is likable enough, but Garrett as a character just isn’t very interesting for a lot of the film. Perhaps he’s supposed to be a “blank slate” for people to empathise with, because despite his relative boringness, I did find myself rooting for him and Erin to work out by the end of the movie. But then I am a big girl.

It was the weakest of the three movies I watched, but since I was gradually dropping off to sleep throughout the flight, the fact I didn’t have to think about it too hard was probably a good thing. It wasn’t a bad movie by any means. But it was very conventional and utterly predictable.

So there we are. Three different movies, all of which are worth your time for very different reasons. Toy Story 3 was great, but there was never really any doubt that Pixar would pull it off again. So I think the surprise that was Tamara Drewe was actually my pick of the three movies. Worth a watch, particularly if you like seemingly mild-mannered English countryside intrigue with a bit of an acidic twist.

#oneaday, Day 345: Leader of Men

I’ve never seen myself as the “leader” type. I follow orders well, but when I’m asked to take charge of something, I find myself thinking whether or not I’m “qualified” to make those decisions, particularly if they’re on behalf of other people. Now, I’m a qualified teacher, so in the most literal sense of the term I am qualified to make decisions on behalf of other people. But if you’re the sort of person who suffers a bit from self-doubt or a lack of self-confidence, then it’s difficult to make yourself get into a position to “lead” others.

Which is why I’ve kind of surprised myself with stepping up to the plate for next year’s One A Day Project. And also why I’m even more surprised that people—some of whom I don’t even know directly (yet)—appear to be flocking to the cause. Apparently either my word carries some degree of influence, or people think it’s actually a good idea.

I think it’s a good idea. Yes, some may argue that the more relaxed rules of next year aren’t strictly “one a day” in the most literal sense. And to that I say, “I agree”. But it’s a compromise. Those who do want to go the whole hog and commit to a post every day, I applaud you. (And yes, I am applauding myself right now.) Those who don’t feel they can commit to a post every single day, that’s absolutely fine too. Personally, while I am a fan of writing something every day and believe that both I and this blog have got something out of it, it’s not for everyone, depending on work, family commitments and all manner of other things. So it makes sense to relax the rules a bit in order to allow as many people as possible to participate.

And that, I guess, is what heading up some sort of project is all about—listening to a variety of viewpoints, weighing up the pros and cons and coming to some sort of compromise that makes as many people as possible happy.

I’m really pleased with the amount of interest people have shown in the new project so far, and I promise I won’t keep banging on about it over here too much. But I thought I’d just share the fact that we’re up to 24 participants (with a few more sign-ups in my inbox that I’ll be putting on the site once I’ve flown back from the US to the UK… boo) and we have had our first monetary donation to Cancer Research. We’ve also earned 153 minutes of crisis and suicide prevention services on behalf of To Write Love On Her Arms via ad clickthroughs.

It may not sound like a lot until you consider the fact that we haven’t started yet. (Those of us who are starting on January 1st, that is.) Hopefully once everyone starts contributing, there’ll be a wealth of content for people to enjoy, and said people will be happy to contribute their time or their money to the charities we’re supporting to show their appreciation.

So yes; I know that “#oneaday” doesn’t mean one a day next year. But that’s fine; it’s going to bring a bunch of people together to do something awesome. And it feels pretty good to be an important part of that.

#oneaday, Day 344: Bullshit Filters

One of the biggest challenges in creative writing is overcoming your own personal bullshit filters—those parts of your brain that point out what you’re writing is complete worthless nonsense and garbage that no-one in their right mind would ever want to read.

My own tolerance for nonsense is pretty high, as my enjoyment of JRPGs and love of Bayonetta will attest. But even when I’m writing creative stuff myself, I end up picturing some variant on Comic Book Guy reading what I’ve written and saying “BUT THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!” I guess I have bullshit filters by proxy, as if I were writing stuff purely for myself, it could make as little sense as I please.

One simple way to overcome your own bullshit filters (whether or not they’re proxies like mine), though, is to watch some movies or read some books. When you see how much nonsense other people—published people who actually get paid for their bullshit—put out, you’ll feel a lot better.

Let’s take Tron: Legacy for a moment, which I went to see the other night. This is a movie built almost entirely on nonsensical premises. Why are the programs in the computer personified as humans? Why do they behave in a human way? Why do they need vehicles? And given that the main distinguishing feature of one group in the movie is that they act “more human”, what, in fact, is the difference between them and those who are already acting pretty human? How does a virtual projection of an aircraft stall at altitude in a virtual environment which presumably has no air? THAT WOULD NEVER HA—

Stop. Tron: Legacy isn’t a bad movie despite the fact that all of the above issues are clearly nonsensical plot holes which spectacularly fail to be resolved by the end of the movie. I enjoyed it very much and intend going to see it again. In fact, Tron: Legacy is a movie which actually benefits from you specifically not trying to read too much into it. The reason the programs act human? Because it’s relatable. The reason they drive vehicles? So there can be awesome action sequences. The reason a virtual aircraft stalls at altitude? Because it’s exciting. Nothing more than that.

So it is when you’re writing. Not everything has to be laced with hidden meanings, metaphors and commentary on the human condition. In fact, some of the best “hidden meanings” come about completely unintentionally, as an unconscious communication on the part of the author, an unconscious expression of something deep-seated in their mind that comes out in the things that they are writing. A window onto their soul, if you will.

Of course, some people can transcend that kind of writing and deliberately do clever things. But then they probably get labelled as “pretentious” and don’t get appreciated in their own lifetime. And everyone wants to be appreciated in their own lifetime, right?

So, the next time you’re writing something, take care that it makes sense, sure. But if you want to write something which initially appears to be “stupid”, think about the rest of what you’re writing too. Does it make sense in context, however “unrealistic” it might be when compared to reality? If so, then there absolutely is no reason that the Blood Sausage of Agamemnon can’t turn into a semi truck at the push of a button when combined with the Amulet of Lindor under a full moon.

And if you still feel what you’re writing is ridiculous, go watch Tron: Legacy.

#oneaday, Day 343: Boxing Day

Christmas is over for another year, and so here we are on Boxing Day (or actually the day after if you’re operating on UK time)—a day which apparently isn’t particularly well-known in the US. In all honesty, it’s not particularly well-known in the UK, either, aside from the name. It’s just “the day after Christmas”.

There’s plenty of things that can be done on Boxing Day, and they tend to vary according to your age.

If you’re a young kid, Boxing Day is a day to spend playing with all the presents you got and suffering from some pretty severe analysis paralysis while you work out what to do next. When you have the amount of choice most kids get these days after receiving a veritable truckload of presents, it’s easy to see how they might get overwhelmed with things to choose from.

If you’re a bit older, Boxing Day is probably a day for a hangover, whether it be caused by excess of alcohol, excess of food or, more likely, both. It also marks the beginning of The Great Leftovers Season, by the end of which you will never, ever want to see turkey ever again, whether it’s on a plate with potatoes and gravy, stuffed into a sandwich, made into a curry or whatever vaguely inventive ways you’ve come up with to use turkey. Turkey is, of course, a meat which barely gets eaten throughout the rest of the year. Is this because it’s just like an enormous dry chicken? Or is it because we eat so much of it throughout the holiday season that no-one can bear the thought of eating it again at any point in the rest of the year?

It’s a pretty universal constant whatever your age, though, that the day after Christmas is for resting, sleeping, lolling on the couch (the original meaning of lolling, not the Internet meaning) and watching the DVDs that were inevitably in your Christmas stockings.

There’s an exception, though: households which got a Wii or Kinect for Christmas. The Wii and Kinect get people up and about a little bit more than they would otherwise be, since they’re popular gifts with kids and adults alike, and they require that you get off your turkey-filled ass and jump around. Quite literally in the case of Kinect.

Incidentally, if you are still a Kinect doubter, I defy you not to at least find the damn thing clever as hell. Yesterday we were trying it out and didn’t have enough space to play with two people on Kinect Adventures, so we moved the couch back a bit. By the time we’d turned back to the screen, the game was asking if we’d like to play two-player mode. Without us telling it. Witchcraft and sorcery!

Hope you’ve all had a suitably festive festive season and have some appropriately awesome plans for the new year. 2011 better not suck as much as 2010, though I recall saying something very similar at the end of 2009 so I’m not going to hold my breath until something actually awesome happens!

#oneaday, Day 342: Family Games: The Addendum

Merry Christmas from California, everyone. Having spent the day playing a selection of games that various members of my family purchased for various other members of my family, I feel I should add a few picks to yesterday’s post.

First up is Apples to Apples, which is an entertaining, silly game that could easily descend into drunken arguments between consenting adults. For the unfamiliar, the game tasks players with picking a card from their hand which is “most like” a card with an adjective on it that is placed in the middle of the table. Players take it in turns to be the “judge” of what is the best fit—and can be persuaded by other players—and the first person to “win” four hands wins.

It’s very simple, not very strategic and silly enough for kids to join in with. Good stuff.

Next up is Fluxx, which is a card game that people who haven’t really got into the board game hobby probably won’t have heard of. But the beauty of Fluxx is that it is simple to understand and full of random stupidity.

The reason it’s simple to understand is the fact that there are only two rules to remember—draw a card, then play a card. Everything else comes out of the cards played. New rules, victory conditions, limitations on how many cards players can have in their hand, how many cards can be laid in front of them, the works.

It may appear to be light on strategy, but once a few rule cards have been played allowing people to draw and play more cards at once, picking the right order to use the cards becomes increasingly important. It’s also very easy (and satisfying) to screw over your opponents throughout the course of the game.

Most importantly for family games suitable for holiday consumption, though, games never last longer than half an hour and more typically last around the 10-minute mark. Because it’s so heavily (though not completely) based on chance, everyone has a shot at winning, and it’s difficult to figure out exactly how to be “good” at it. This certainly keeps things interesting, and prevents my Agricola situation, where I like the game but get tired of playing it because I can pretty much guarantee I will never win. I know, boohoo, right?

Anyway. Today has been a pretty nice day all told. I got a nice watch, a nice shirt and some nice chocolates. Niceness. As I said a few days back, I kind of miss the days when Christmas was exciting rather than exhausting, but at least I’m old enough to drink myself into a stupor in the corner if it all gets a bit too much now. And there’s always iPhone and PC games to jump into and hide if necessary.

Later tonight, I will finally be seeing Inception, which I have somehow managed to avoid all spoilers about, even though the statute of limitations appears to be up. Looking forward to it, as it’s a movie I’ve been meaning to see for ages and never got around to. I also saw Tron: Subtitle I’ve Forgotten the other night, too, which is worthy of an entry all of its own, I feel.

For now, merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Enjoy your hangovers.