Wednesday, January 03, 2018

L'il Granny

When my Grandad died in 2008 I wrote a post where I shared some fond memories and talked about the wonderful man he was. I don't think I ever really planned to write it at the time as it seemed very final to be saying it, but something made me feel as if I needed to, to preserve something of who he was, if only for me.

I feel the need to write something similar today, because a couple of days ago my Nan passed away.

It was expected and we were all probably as ready as we could've been, but the finality of that phone call where I was told the news still took the wind out of my sails.

This hasn't been the easiest thing to write, and I'm sure I'm missing so many little things that I'll kick myself for forgetting when I remember them later, but I just needed to write this.

So let me tell you about Stella.

She was brilliant, let's say that straight off. Of all my grandparents, she was the one I spent most time with, not only because she was the longest lived of them, but because as kids Mum used to take my brother and I over to spend time with her during summer holidays. Every Friday we'd get the bus over  to her house in St. Margarets. If she was working we'd watch TV before racing off to meet her when she finished work at midday; if she wasn't, or after she'd retired, we'd all take a morning stroll down the river to Richmond for a bite to eat in the cafe in Dickens and Jones department store followed by a bit of shopping. Occasionally my brother and I would stay overnight - it always feeling like a treat to get to spend more time with them so we'd be on our best behaviour.  Nan and Grandad had a VHS player long before we did, and they'd taped Raiders of the Lost Ark - complete with adverts - off the TV. My brother and I watched it on a weekly basis to the point we knew every line of dialogue inside out.

She cooked the best dinners - incredible roast potatoes - and always catered to my fussy tastes without quibble. Pudding was always a chocolate gateaux that she served on a proper cake stand and cut with a proper cake knife (and she'd always let me have seconds). It became a recurring joke amongst us that not long after dinner when we were sat with full bellies she'd ask if anyone wanted a packet of crisps or a banana. She was for a long time the only person I'd allow to call me Timmy. She was always generous with the pocket money she gave us.

She'd tell us stories about the war, about how she'd cycle home from the factory she worked at in pitch black, and how one night she got caught out when the air raid sirens went off and she had to make a mad dash for a shelter in Richmond where a man tried to barge her out of the way to get in first and she gave him a piece of her mind. She talked about sitting under the stairs during the blitz, and how thunder and lightening would remind her of it so much so that she would get out of bed and sit there by Grandad's little bar when there was a storm. In later years, she even bought some heavy duty ear defenders like workmen use when they're drilling in the street to wear during storms - the idea of her sitting under the stairs wrapped in her dressing gown and wearing her ear defenders never failed to raise a smile; even she thought it was funny.

When they came over to visit my brother and I would run up the road to meet them; when Dad took them home we'd run up the road trying to keep pace with the car. As the years went by I got more protective of my grandparents, always offering to pick them up and drive them home when I got my first car so they didn't have to get public transport. Nan would sit in the back, waving like the Queen as we set off. And then, when Grandad passed I got more protective still. Together they had been the perfect team - she helping him with everyday tasks when his arthritis took hold, he holding her arm in the crook of his when they went out in case she should be a little unsteady on her feet. Alone, she seemed to me a little lost, rattling around the home they had shared for 60 years, half of an unbeatable duo waiting for the other to one day return. I wanted to wrap her in cotton wool and keep her safe.

I nevertheless shared some great times with my Nan over the next couple of years. Every Tuesday I'd stop in for dinner with her on my way home from work - always chicken and chips because she knew that was my favourite - then we'd watch a bit of TV and have a cuppa before I went out for a run. However long I was out running, when I got back to my car she would always be standing in the porch waving me off and blowing kisses.

I remember in August 2008, a few months after Grandad had died she asked me if I'd take her shopping so she could buy something for Mum's birthday. I'd already picked up a few gifts on her behalf, but she wanted to choose something special herself – and she wanted to go out exactly as Mum and I did when we went on our shopping trips. So one sunny day I picked her up. She was ready and waiting, immaculately turned out in a smart pink jacket and pretty skirt. We went to Kingston, because that's where Mum and I always went. And because Mum and I always started our shopping days with a Starbucks, she wanted to go to Starbucks too. After a few hours of shopping - during which she almost smacked someone in the face with her walking stick as she lifted it up to point it in the direction we were going - she asked that I take her to Nando's, because that's what Mum and I did - so I took my then-84 year old Nan for her first Nando's. She had a quarter chicken (lemon and herb) and chips, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.

A few years later she broke her arm and not long after that she decided that she couldn't stay in the house on her own anymore. She moved into a lovely top floor room in a retirement home not too far from where I live and furnished it with a few things to make it feel like home. She took part in the arts and crafts they offered on a weekly basis, painting a mug in broad lilac stripes one time, a ceramic cupcake jar in bright colours another. She made a little drinks coaster, and a mirror with blue and green tiles that I had no idea she'd made until Mum told me yesterday, it looking like it could've been bought in a shop. When they were given to her after they'd dried she didn't seem too bothered by them, but they remained in her room nevertheless.

As the years passed she got a little frailer, giving up her walking stick for a stroller, then giving that up for a wheelchair, but whenever I visited her mind was still sharp as a tack. She was always interested in what we were up to with our lives, with our work and whether we'd done anything exciting. She'd always ask me if I'd been shopping recently and whether I'd bought anything. She supported me when I headed to Los Angeles for my Yoga training in 2012, and kept a framed copy of my graduation photo in her room.

She had the most beautiful handwriting; I envied it from a young age as it looped across everything from birthday and Christmas cards to shopping lists. Even though she struggled to write in recent years, it still looked a hundred times better than my scrawl. She had a lovely smile and a great sense of humour - I have the most brilliant photo of her holding a vase of fake flowers upside down, a broad smile on her face as she saw our reactions thinking it was real. And she always dressed so prettily, whether she was going to the shops, out to dinner or coming over to spend time with us. Even in her retirement home she was very particular about her appearance, wearing lovely knitted jumpers and patterned skirts, having her nails painted and her hair styled regularly. We called her our Glamorous Granny.

In October she turned 93, an age even she seemed surprised to have reached. My brother and I bought her a perfume she loved and a basket of flowers. She sprayed the perfume liberally and admired the flowers, telling us which varieties she could see and remarking how beautiful they were.

Not long after that she was taken ill. She was defiant, a spark of determination blossoming as she said she was going to get better. But eventually we were told to say our goodbyes and I did that at least three times because, bless her, she couldn't have been quite ready to go. The last time I saw her was when my brother and I visited on Christmas Eve. She was peaceful in her bed in the room that had been her home for seven years, surrounded by her photos and trinkets and flowers.

A little over a week later she passed away, with as my brother put it, immaculate timing, seeing in the New Year and then slipping away a few short hours later.

Over the years, she was known variously as Nana Spong, then Nana, then Nan when we reached that age where we didn't think it was cool to call her Nana. As we grew and began to tower over her she became L'il Granny, and then most recently because my brother can be a ridiculous person when the fancy takes him, G-Ma. Whatever name we gave her, I'll never forget her. I loved her to bits. She was the absolute best.

I'll miss you, Nana.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reading list 2017

It's that time of year when I defend myself once again for not blogging more consistently, or indeed, at all post all the books I've read throughout the year! And OH MY, what a year it's been. I think this has been the most books I've ever read in a single year since I started writing this dear old blog back in 2006, and I guess it pretty much explains why I've not blogged: basically, it would seem I've spent the entire year reading.

Anyway, I'll make my annual hollow promise to start blogging again in the coming year (who knows, this might be the one I actually follow through with it!) before digging out my dusty old jacket with the worn leather elbow patches, nudge my glasses up my nose (true story: I actually got some this year, but only for working on my computer, sadly not to look sexily intelligent as I'm sipping a latte in Starbucks) in order to run through the books of 2017 and give them an appropriate grade, from D- (you're trash) to A+ (I get a tingle in my special place). As usual I'll provide links where possible so you can purchase your own copy if you should so like, but honestly, do try and buy from an actual bookshop rather than the giant corporation I'm linking to; I only link to them because I'm impossibly lazy (hence no blogging).

Onwards?

01. Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk, illustrated by Cameron Stewart - A graphic novel sequel to Palahniuk's acclaimed novel and the film it spawned. This book picks up the thread of the narrator now married to Marla with a child, but it's not long before Tyler Durden resurfaces. It's a worthy and for the most part enjoyable follow up to the original, but one that is neither as clever nor as shocking: B

02. The Complete Peanuts 1950-2000 by Charles Schultz - The final volume in Fantagraphics Books' wonderful complete Peanuts collection looks back at all the bonus material, original art and other extras that Schultz created outside of the daily strips. It's a fitting conclusion to a beautiful series of books: A+

03. The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello (Kindle) - An enjoyable tale with two parallel storylines, one featuring Jekyll and Hyde author Robert Louis Stevenson in Victorian London amidst the horrors of the Jack the Ripper murders and the other focusing on a conservationist in contemporary California who finds Stevenson's diary. It's a fun, easy read, and one that's rather enjoyable as long as you surrender to the historical inaccuracies and liberties within: B

04. Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs - A companion volume to Riggs' acclaimed Miss Peregrine trilogy, this beautifully presented tome contains a number of short stories – best described as peculiar fairy tales – that were referred to throughout the author’s earlier books. An enjoyable read that adds an extra layer of detail to Riggs’ peculiar universe. I enjoyed it a lot: A-

05. How to Archer by Sterling Archer - No, seriously, the animated star of the TV show Archer is listed as the author. Regardless of who wrote it - and I veer strongly towards it actually being Sterling Archer because his voice comes across so well in the writing - this is an amusing guide to how to be the words greatest secret agent. Made me chuckle a lot: B+

06. John Carter: World of Mars by Peter David, art by Luke Ross - A collected edition that gathers together the four issue prequel comic book series to the 2012 movie. It's a fun story that unites characters from the film and gives a bit of backstory to them and their motivations prior to Carter's arrival on Barsoom: B+

07. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - A reread of one of my favourite books in a fancy new cloth bound hardback edition. Toole's farcical tale of the outlandish Ignatious J. Reilly's misadventures remains as hysterically funny as it was when I first read it almost 20 years ago. A genuinely brilliant read filled with colourful, memorable characters. I adore this book: A+

08. Star Wars: Catalyst - A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno (Kindle) - A prequel to the 2016 standalone movie Rogue One, Catalyst tells the story of Galen Erso's friendship with Orsen Krennic, the development of what will ultimately become the Death Star, and ultimately the manipulation that leads Erso and his family to escape into hiding before Krennic tracks the down at the beginning of the film. A solid read that adds some welcome backstory to the events of the movie: B+

09. The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Kindle) - From the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, this story tells the tale of Julian 9th, an oppressed young man living in a time when Earth has been conquered by invaders from the moon. A quick read, and one that’s enjoyable enough but not quite as enthralling as the author’s Barsoom stories: B-

10. Pirates of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Kindle) - The first book in the author's Amtor series sees Earth man Carson Napier aim for Mars but end up on Venus, where he discovers a world full of strange creatures and adventure. A really fun, easy to read pulp novel that has similarities to Burroughs' John Carter stories: A-

11. Lost on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Kindle) - Book two of the Amtor series picks right up from the end of the first, with Carson Napier thrust into more peril and new adventures on the planet Venus. As fun as the first book: A-

12. Carson of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Kindle) - Carson’s story picks up in the third of Burroughs’ Venus books. In this adventure, Carson Napier finds himself once more separated from his beloved princess Duare, and caught in a war against the fascist Zanis. Another enjoyable tale of daring-do and fantastic adventure, but probably my least favourite of the series so far: B+

13. Escape on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Kindle) - The fourth Amtor novel sees Carson and his beloved Duare caught up in yet more adventures on Venus, from being captured by amphibian warriors to amoeba-type humanoids who want to keep them as exhibits in a museum. There's a lovely line of humour running throughout this book that was absent from the previous ones, and it helped this enjoyable tale take a step on from the set formula established in books 1-3: A

14. The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Kindle) - A short novella rounds off Burroughs' Amtor series, with Carson of Venus and his friend Ero Shan finding themselves in a valley where a wizard is said to turn people into the Venusian equivalent of pigs. It's a slight tale, and maybe not quite a fitting send off for the series, but enjoyable nonetheless: B+

15. John Carter: A Princess of Mars - A very enjoyable collected edition of the comic book adaptation of Burroughs' first Barsoom tale. The artwork is striking if somewhat dark in places, and the tale rattles along at a fair old pace. Very enjoyable: A-

16. John Carter: The Gods of Mars - The second book in Burrough’s Barsoom series receives a graphic novel adaptation. The art isn’t as stylised as that of the previous book, but this makes it arguably easier to read if not quite as nice to look at. I did have some issues with the way some of the individual panels flowed on certain pages, but on the whole this was an enjoyable and easy read that captured the essence of the original book well: A-

17. Star Trek: Voyager - Full Circle by Kirsten Beyer (Kindle) - I decided to give Beyer’s first Voyager relaunch novel a go based on the fact she’s working on Star Trek: Discovery. It’s a good, solid tale that covers a lot of ground, from B’Elanna Torres dealing with an ancient Klingon order out to get her daughter to - SPOILER ALERT! - the death of Kathryn Janeway and the effect it has on Chakotay. I enjoyed, but don’t know yet whether I’ll race to read the next book and find out what happens during Voyager’s return to the Delta Quadrant…: B

18. Alien 3 by Alan Dean Foster - I threw out a copy of this book when I moved years ago and for some reason came to regret that decision in the years that followed. Fortunately, I found another copy and thoroughly enjoyed Foster’s novelisation of what I believe is a hugely underrated film: A

19. Aliens - The Original Comics Series: Nightmare Asylum and Earth War by Mark Verheiden - The second volume in Dark Horse’s beautiful series of oversized hardbacks repackaging the original comics that followed on from the 1986 movie Aliens. The stories in this edition see Newt and Hicks fall into the hands of a crazed military officer who believes the Aliens can be trained, and tell the tale of what Ripley has been up to in the intervening years: A

20. Star Trek: The Abode of Life by Lee Correy (Kindle) - An appalling Star Trek novel from the 1980s. The Enterprise is damaged and finds itself in orbit of a planet whose inhabitants think they’re the only life in the universe. A dull story, far too much exposition about how the alien civilisation works, and characters that don’t read like their namesakes. One of the very worst Trek novels I’ve ever read: C-

21. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Kindle) - A brilliantly told story about a small town in North East America that has been held under the curse of a witch for over 300 hundred years. The witch appears throughout the town and is monitored by an agency called Hex. But things start to go badly wrong when the town’s youths rebel against the edict to leave the witch alone… One of the best horrors I’ve read in years: A+

22. The Lost City of Z by David Grann - I was intrigued by the true story of experienced Amazon explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett going missing while searching for a mythical city he believed existed in the middle of the dense jungle, but hesitated as I’m not a big fan of non-fiction. I needn’t have worried: this book is a superb exploration of Fawcett’s life and passion, and the author’s own fascination with the story is imbued in every page. Wonderful: A+

23. Summer Morning, Summer Night by Ray Bradbury - A collection of some of Bradbury’s short stories. This was my first exposure to the author’s work and while it was a reasonably charming and quick read, I don’t necessarily feel the need to delve further into his back catalogue: B-

24. Alien Covenant by Alan Dean Foster – A decent, well-written novelisation of the most recent Alien film. There's nothing beyond what you saw on cinema screens, but it's a good story, realised well here in prose. Basically, if you enjoyed the film I imagine you'll enjoy the book: B+

25. Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol. 11 by Robert Kirkman - Volume 11 sees Mark having hung up his Invincible costume and retired to a planet with his wife and child - but of course trouble finds him, most notably here when an alien transports him to a time just prior to him becoming Invincible. A decent enough read, but the series has taking a notable downturn in quality over the last couple of volumes from the fresh and exciting stories it used to tell: B-

26. The Fisherman by John Langan - A beautifully told horror novel split into two parts, one in a contemporary setting, the other a hundred years earlier. Truly unsettling in places and vividly realised, this is a brilliant book: A

27. Aliens: Bug Hunt (Kindle) - A short story collection focusing on the colonial marines from the Alien films. There's a couple of gems hidden in this book, but for the most part I found the stories here poorly written and underwhelming: C

28. Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade by Frank Miller and Brian Azarrillo; art by John Romita Jr - A prequel to Miller's legendary Dark Knight Returns, this tale tells the story of what caused Batman to retire, and what happened to the last Robin at the hands of the Joker. It's a slight tale, which is a shame as there's so much more story here to be told, but there's just about enough to keep you enthralled across its all too brief length: B

29. Hekla's Children by James Brogden (Kindle) - Four kids go missing during a school trip to a country park, and only one is found, leading to a mystery that involves passage to another world and an ancient demon out for revenge. A good, solid read that kept me engrossed throughout: B
30. Dick Tracy Goes to War by Max Allan Collins - I’ve long wanted to read this book sequel to the 1990 movie, and after hunting down a secondhand copy I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint, with the famous detective hunting down a Nazi gang who’ve infiltrated his home city. A cracking crime read: A+

30. Dick Tracy Goes to War by Max Allan Collins - I’ve long wanted to read this book sequel to the 1990 movie, and after hunting down a secondhand copy I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint, with the famous detective hunting down a Nazi gang who’ve infiltrated his home city. A cracking crime read: A+

31. Dick Tracy Movie Adaptation (graphic novel) - At the time the movie came out 27 years ago three graphic novels: two prequels and an adaptation of the film, the latter of which I never got to read. All these years later I finally get my hands on it and… it’s a perfectly serviceable comic book version of the film, but nothing more: B-

32. Star Trek: Boldly Go Vol. 1 - The first volume of the post-Star Trek Beyond adventures of the Enterprise crew. It’s a fantastic start with the crew encountering the Borg – a storyline that could’ve been cliched but turns out remarkably well in the hands of the series’ creative team: A

33. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs - The classic tale of the English lord brought up in the jungles of Africa by apes. It’s a really rather fun story, dramatic, engaging and much darker than the hundreds of television and film adaptations over the years would have us believe: A-

34. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by Christie Golden - Novel adaptation of the recent Luc Besson film, itself based on a series of classic French comic albums. It’s a solid read and one that has made me want to catch the movie, but I can’t help feeling some sequences were dragged out far too long simply to pad out a somewhat slight storyline: B-

35. Star Trek: Discovery – Desperate Hours by David Mack - The first novel focusing on characters from the latest Star Trek television series goes back to a time before the series’ first episode to show the crew of the U.S.S. Shenzhou dealing with a planetary threat alongside the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain Pike’s command. A great start for Discovery in print: A

36. Dick Tracy Meets his Match by Max Allen Collins - The third and final of Collins’ Dick Tracy novel trilogy after the movie novelisation and Dick Tracy Goes to War. This tale sees the famed detective trying to marry his beloved Tess Trueheart on a live TV show, only for a sniper’s bullet to throw things into disarray and lead to a web of intrigue and murder. It took me a long time to track down a copy of this book at a reasonable price, but it was well worth it – I devoured it in a day, and can only hope that the fourth book hinted at in the author’s foreword might still some day make it into print: A+

37. Alien Covenant: Origins by Alan Dean Foster - A prequel novel to the recent movie (and Foster’s novelisation); the events of the book take place before the launch of the Covenant, meaning there are no actual aliens in the book. Instead, the antagonist is a group of humans intent on preventing the launch of the colony ship for fear it will lead to ‘demons’ finding their way back to Earth. An enjoyable enough read, but one that feels rather slight in story and overly long in places: B-

38. John Carter: The End - A graphic novel that is basically the John Carter equivalent of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Here we find an elderly Carter dragged back into action one last time to save his beloved Barsoom. A solid read, although I found the art a little confusing in places: B+

39. The Hangman, the Hound and Other Hauntings by Thomas Corum Caldas
- A book detailing real life haunted locations throughout Wales. There were a few typos and errors throughout that could’ve been avoided with a good run through by an editor, and some sections were rather poorly written, but overall this is a charming little book that I devoured in a just a few days: B+

40. The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard by David A. Goodman (Kindle) - Following on from the author’s bio of Captain Kirk, this book uses an identical format to delve into the life of The Next Generation’s iconic captain. It’s a very enjoyable book, but I was surprised to find the events of the series and the TNG movies that followed were crammed into the last quarter; Insurrection, for example, doesn’t even warrant a mention. Overall, though, this is a treat for TNG fans, and Picard’s voice is reflected clearly in Goodman’s words: A-

41. Shadow on the Wall by Jonathan Aycliffe (Kindle) - A wonderful, haunting tale of an ancient evil that is reawakened during restoration work in an isolated church. There’s no sudden scares in this book, just a disquieting sense of growing malevolence that builds from page to page. I thoroughly enjoyed this perfect spooky tale: A

42. The Lost Village by Neil Spring (Kindle) - A follow-up to Spring’s debut novel, The Ghost Hunters, featuring the return of Harry Price and his former assistant, Sarah Grey. An enjoyable read with some spooky moments as Price and Grey investigate the possible haunting of a ruined village, but not quite as chilling as the author’s last book, The Watchers. That said, it’s still an effective page-turner: B+

43. The Lost by Jonathan Aycliffe (Kindle) - Something of a modern take on the Dracula take but with its own unique spin that makes it standout from Stoker’s classic tale. Like Shadow on the Wall, this is a story that steadily builds with malevolence page by page until the true horror is revealed: A-

44. The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter (Kindle) - Baxter’s authorised sequel to the classic H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds is, for the most part, a cracking tale of a second Martian invasion – this time taking place across the planet Earth rather than being confined to England. There were some instances where I felt the narrator’s tale dragged slightly, but on the whole this was a thrilling read that compliments the original admirably: A-

45. Groo: Friends and Foes, Vol. 3 by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier - Third and final book in the Friend and Foes saga sees the witless warrior finally aid a young girl in tracking down her missing father, with plenty of frays and fun along the way. A fitting conclusion: A

46. Batman: The Dark Knight - Master Race - The second sequel to Frank Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns sees the legendary creator team with a number of other acclaimed comic writers and artists to pit the ageing Batman against a new Kryptonian threat. Better than The Dark Knight Strikes Again, but falling short of the giddy heights of storytelling success achieved by the original. Enjoyable enough, but I’d hope this is the last Dark Knight story: B-

47. Predator: The 30th Anniversary Collection by Mark Verheiden - A weighty deluxe hardcover collection made to stand alongside the Dark Horse Aliens volumes. This book contains the trilogy of stories that find a New York detective drawn into conflict with the titular Predator as he attempts to find out what happened to his brother Dutch (yes, the Arnie character from the first movie): A

48. Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson - A beautiful new edition of the first Moomin novel. A whimsical, joyous tale that was as enchanting for this grown-up reader as it has been to generations of children: A

49. Dick Tracy Vol 1: 1932-1933 by Chester Gould - A wonderful first volume of Gould’s earliest Dick Tracy newspaper strips. Not the famed detective’s best stories, but a fascinating insight into his formative years: A

50. Asterix and the Chariot Race by Ferri and Conrad - The first Asterix book I’ve read from the new creative team and it’s... fine? This latest album has a decent enough story, is illustrated well and the gags are still there, but it’s lacking a certain charm that the older Asterix books had in abundance: B-

51. Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson - the second of Sort Of Books beautiful new Collectors’ Edition Moomins hardcovers reveals what happens when the Moomins discover the magical hobgoblin’s hat. Utterly charming: A+

52. The Memoirs of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson - another wonderful Moomins Collectors’ Edition, which tells the backstory of the Moomin patriarch. Not my favourite of the Moomin stories, but still a wonderful story: A

53. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson - Moon adventures in the depths of a cold winter as Moomintroll unexpectedly wakes up from hibernation and has to contend with his first snow and the arrival of many guests to Moominvalley. Another charming tale - with some surprisingly adult themes - from this master storyteller: A+

54. Two Moomin Stories by Tove Jansson - A delightful little book containing the Moomin tales The Invisible Child and The Fir Tree, with proceeds from its sale going to Oxfam in support of empowering women and young girls. A wonderful book for various reasons, then: A

55. Behind You by Brian Coldrick - Wonderful collection of ‘one-shot horror stories’ featuring spooky illustrations and one simple line of text to accompany them. Effective, chilling and beautifully done: A

56. Star Trek: Waypoint - A great graphic novel collection of short stories set in the various eras of the Star Trek universe. Thoroughly enjoyed all the tales contained within, especially the Star Trek Phase II story that rounds off the book: A

57. Roughneck by Jeff Lemire - A brilliantly told and beautifully illustrated graphic novel in which a shamed former hockey player finds himself reunited with his sister who is fleeing from an abusive partner. The story is well told, the artwork never anything less than stunning, with its sparse use of colour being particularly effective: A

58. The Terminator: Tempest and One Shot - Great oversized hardcover that fits in perfectly with Dark Horse’s earlier Alien and Predator volumes, and which contains comic stories devised before the Terminator 2 movie. A fun read: B+

59. The Art of Star Trek: The Kelvin Timeline by Jeff Bond - A lush oversized hardback featuring beautiful concept art from the three latest Star Trek movies. The text is slight but the images talk for themselves. An essential purchase for fans: A

60. Eight Ghosts - A wonderful collection of short stories by various authors, all of which tell ghost tales set at real locations maintained by English Heritage. And as if the stories themselves aren't haunting enough, the book also features a section that lists real ghostly experiences at some of English Heritage's locations around the country: A

There we go then - 60 books on the head! If only I'd read a little quicker and added another nine on top we could've all rounded off the year sniggering at 69. Infantile? Perhaps. Maybe next year?

Have a happy, healthy and wondrous 2018. Maybe, just maaaaaaybe, I'll see you back around here a little sooner than next December 31st…


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth

Last week I was strolling around Waitrose and I decided I fancied some camembert; fancy as in I wanted to eat some, not that I became strangely romantically entangled with a piece of cheese. So I picked some up, popped it in my basket and a few minutes later I'd bought it.

The next day I decided that I quite liked the idea of having some of the camembert for lunch so I took the packet out of the fridge - noting at the time a rather distinct aroma - opened it, carved a bit off, lit a candle because this stuff REEKS, and began eating.

I mean, seriously, every time I open the fridge I have to spark some incense or something because this stuff is aggressive.

Anyway, that's not what this tale is about. Because a couple of minutes after eating the cheese I noticed a tooth at the back of my mouth felt a bit… weird.

Now, strictly speaking I should blame the Kitkat I had after the cheese because that's way harder than camembert, but I love Kitkats, don't want to blame them for any of the world's troubles, and the cheese just smells.

So I sit there for a few seconds running my tongue around the back of my mouth thinking that it's just food wedged down in the tooth and I can probably pry it off if I really go at it like a high-schooler furiously making out behind the bike sheds, but after a while I start to get that mounting sensation of dread - so much so that I had to pause the episode of Supernatural I was watching and peg it upstairs to the bathroom. There I start brushing my teeth, certain that in a few seconds I'll have dislodged the offending mass and everything will be fine.

Everything was not fine.

Opening my mouth I look back and see and big old lump of tooth has just, like, gone.

Gone as in it's no longer anywhere in my mouth, which means I've swallowed it.

At this point I start fretting and here's why: I *hate* dentists.

Seriously. Pretty much from the moment I was old enough to make the decision myself I've not been. Which is weird, because when I was a kid I had the loveliest dentist and never needed any working doing. That said, he used to have a load of those little furry clip-on toys that used to be everywhere in the eighties attached to his lamp and I always worried one would fall off, straight into my mouth and I'd choke, so I guess there's a reason for my paranoia.

Anyway, at this point, even though the tooth doesn't hurt and I can stab it with my tongue and drink tea and eat and it only feels weird when I do touch it I decide there's two courses of action:

1. Leave it and hope it gets better.
2. Go to a dentist.

I know I'm grown up now because I actually decide on option 2, even though option 1 was mightily appealing.

Finding a dentist on a Friday afternoon when you've not had a dentist in years is a fraught experience, reader. Especially so when you're trying to find an NHS one and the closest appointment they can give you is in April. And this is why I ended up going to a private dentist, because not only were they reasonably affordable, but they were just a short walk from Sparky Towers and had a rather nice, professional looking logo so I reasoned they must be good.

So at an ungodly hour on Monday morning I rock up to the dentist and fill in a registration form; under the section asking 'do you have any medical conditions we should know about' I write 'I'm absolutely terrified of dentists (sorry).'

A short time later a lovely lady approaches me and introduces herself. We'll call her Susan. "Nice to meet you Susan," I say. She smiles and replies "you don't really mean that, do you?"

Susan leads me to her chamber of horrors and asks me to perch on the seat. I explain what's happened and she doesn't chastise me for not going to a dentist in 847 years. Then she asks me to swing my feet up and she begins to lower the chair. At this point I go rigid with fear because the sensation of the chair tilting makes me feel like I'm going to be waterboarded, or simply slide off the chair and shatter into a thousand tiny pieces on the floor. Above me is a flatscreen television showing a piece on BBC Breakfast about Brexit, as if I wasn't already terrified enough.

After a quick look in my gob Susan says I've done remarkably well for someone who's neglected their dental health for such an obscenely long time. Then she pulls out a wand with a camera attached and, replacing the BBC Breakfast Brexit piece on the television begins to take me on a guided tour of my mouth. If it wasn't for the fact she had two fingers and a camera in my mouth I would've asked if she could change the channel back to the Brexit piece and as lovely as this all was, could she just fix what needs fixing and leave me feeling blissfully ignorant.

Susan says the damaged tooth just needs a filling and I almost explode. I've never had a filling in my life and I suddenly feel a sense of unexpected shame. Then Susan injects me and half my face goes numb.

"If at any point you want me to stop," she says, "just raise your hand."

I raise my hand.

"I haven't started yet," she says.

I then decide to sit on my hands because otherwise she'll be stop-starting more than a worn out 1984 Ford Escort.

At this point I'm just one big massive rigid piece of man-shaped tension, which is ironic given that I'm always telling people in yoga classes to let the tension go and relax. I try practicing what I preach, but I just start vibrating.

Anyway, Susan goes about doing her thing and I'm a very brave little boy until that moment right at the end where the woman holding the suction thing turns away for a second and my mouth fills up with water and I choke a bit.

"Oh, looks like we hit your gag reflex there," says Susan smiling.

I BEG YOUR PARDON SUSAN I telepathically convey because my mouth is otherwise occupied and my face half numb.

Susan then announces we're done and asks if I want to see what she's done. I don't, and tell her I'll review her handiwork later at my leisure, once the trauma (and the anaesthetic) has worn off. Part of me is hoping that she's going to give me a lollipop for being so brave, but I guess that goes against the whole trying to avoid getting any cavities thing.

So there we have it. I now have my first filling. And it's all because of some stinky camembert and definitely not because of a Kitkat. Bloody cheese. Oh, and Big Bro just keeps asking me if I've poo'd out the offending shard that snapped off. So far the answer is no, but now I'm terrified it's going to lacerate my bottom when it finally does depart. Such trauma.

-----

EPILOGUE

I took me 24 hours to summon up the courage to check out Susan's work and the woman is a genius. She's the Michelangelo of dentistry. I'd take a photo but I've got an iPhone Plus and I can't fit it in my mouth.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reading list 2016

I'm baaaaaaack! OK, so my blog reboot fizzled a bit earlier in the year after that REALLY TRYING DAY when I tried to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, but I've been busy since then as well which is why I've not had time to hurl myself back into writing here as much as I would've liked to.

Why am I defending myself? God, shut up!

Anyway, that's not why I'm here today – because today, it's time for my annual reading list! Woo-hoo! I know you're all excited about this one because a) why wouldn't you be, but also b) these posts are as much for me as they are for telling you what I've been reading because I've gotten particularly OCD about keeping track of the books I read. I know. Shut up.

So while I may have been busy with other things, I've still been reading. Which is a good thing. Kids, you should all be reading more.

Where were we? Oh yes. The reading list. So as always the usual things apply: I'm dusting off my tweed jacket with the worn leather elbow pads and grading all the books I've read based on a scale that goes from A+ (for those that gave me a little thrill in my downstairs area) to D- and beyond (for those that made me go to a chemist for a special cream for my downstairs area). I'm also providing links to a well know online store whose digital service I've used to read some on my Kindle, but if any of these books take your fancy and you want to pick up an actual physical dead tree copy of your own, I'd urge you to go to a lovely bookshop such as Waterstones or Foyles, or if you have one nearby a little independent shop. Honestly, they're brilliant and I'm sure they'd love to have you browsing their shelves.

Let's begin…

01. Figure Fantasy by Daniel Picard - a stunning collection of the author's photography featuring life-like action figures taken from films and comic books and placed in unusual, every day situations: B+

02. Invincible: Ultimate Collection Volume 10 by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley - The latest addition to the series of hardcover collections of this ongoing superhero comic book series. I can't help feel that Invincible has lost a little of the creativity that once made it so uniquely enjoyable, but it's still a fun read, highly entertaining and worth checking out: B+

03. Joyland by Stephen King - A coming of age tale more akin to King's Stand By Me than his more terrifying works of horror, this book tells the story of a young man's time spent working at a fading theme park. Although there are touches of the author's trademark supernatural flourishes throughout, this book is finely honed portrait of someone at a turning point in their life. It's beautifully written, by turn both heart wrenching and heart stopping, and gripping throughout. I loved it: A

04. The Complete Peanuts 1995-1996 by Charles Schulz - Nearing the end of this incredible collection (only three more volumes to go) and Schulz's comic strip masterpiece is still as insightful and brilliant as ever: A

05. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - Brilliantly told fantasy tale about a teenage boy who discovers the outlandish tales of children with incredible abilities told to him by his grandfather are true: A

06. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - The sequel to the above title, and the middle tale of the Miss Peregrine's trilogy, is a thoroughly enjoyable story that picks up immediately where the previous book left off. It suffers just a little bit in places from being the second story of a trilogy, but on the whole it's great fun and the conclusion leaves you waiting for the final book: A-

07. Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs - The third and final book in the Miss Peregrine's series sees Jacob and Emma separated from their peculiar friends and with no choice but to take the fight to the Wights who threaten to destroy Peculiardom. A rousing finale for a wonderful series: A-

08. Love and Rockets New Stories 8 by The Hernandez Brothers - A new selection of stories from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. I didn't feel this volume was quite up to the standards of previous ones, but the Hernandez Brothers' work nevertheless remains head and shoulders above other comic books: B+

09. Illuminae by Jay Kristof and Amie Kaufman - A young adult novel told primarily in the form of various communiques between two teenage lovers, Kady and Ezra, following an attack on the planet they’re living on and their subsequent escape aboard a fleet of ships. A brilliantly told story that is by turns gripping, heart-wrenching and thrilling; the book is beautifully designed and packaged too with wonderfully illustrated pages that need to be seen to fully appreciate. Simply one of the most original and engaging books I’ve read in a long time: A+

10. Prometheus: The Complete Fire and Stone - An immense graphic novel collection drawing together stories from the Prometheus, Aliens, AvP and Predator comics to tell one epic story. It starts brilliantly - the Prometheus and Aliens entries telling wonderful stories that promise much - but the AvP and Predator tales prove to be little more than competent all out slug fests, while the final chapter, Prometheus: Omega, appears to get things back on track before trailing off with the most ridiculously open ended conclusion that fails to wrap up any of the ongoing plot threads. That said, for the most part I enjoyed this a rather a lot: B

11. Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner with David Fisher (Kindle) - A touching and insightful memoir of Shatner's near 50 year friendship with Leonard Nimoy. Yes, many of the Star Trek anecdotes here have been told elsewhere, but there's enough fascinating new details about both these remarkable men to warrant giving this a read, and both their voices shine throughout: A-

12. Star Trek Volume 11 by Mike Johnson - The latest graphical novel collection of Kelvin Timeline Star Trek comics collects stories detailing an encounter with the Tholians, Sulu's first landing party mission, and a special that draws the doctors of the five Star Trek series together to solve a mysterious virus that threatens the Federation. Entertaining enough, but not the series' finest collection: B

13. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Kindle) - Cracking story about the crew of a spaceship that creates tunnels through space. There’s a hint of galactic politics and a larger story bubbling under throughout the book, but its main focus is on the individual members of the ship’s crew and this it does marvellously - with Chambers crafting a wonderful array of characters you really care for. Loved this: A

14. Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey (Kindle) - After reading good things about the television show based on The Expanse series of books I thought I'd give the first novel a go. It's a great read, very entertaining and with some good characters and interesting story threads. However, it didn't quite make me want to jump straight into the second book right away, although I'm sure I will plough on with the series at some point (on a side note, the TV series is worth a bash): B

15. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Kindle) - A good read that tells the story of the discovery of a giant robot hidden in pieces across the globe and reconstructed by a secret government agency. Using emails and journal entries to tell the tale makes this an interesting and quick read, but I did feel I was missing certain parts of the story along the way. Still, I’m intrigued enough to be looking forward to the already announced sequel, and wondering where the story will go next: B

16. They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson (Kindle) - A comprehensively researched and brilliantly written exploration of the Victorian serial killer. Robinson delves deep into not only the legend of the ripper but also Victorian society to reveal the identity of who he believes truly was the infamous Whitechapel murderer. He makes a compelling case, and this is a stunning read: A

17. Archie Vs. Predator - Fantastically fun collected edition of the four issue comic book series that brings the fun-loving characters of the Archie comic book series together with the murderous alien Predator. It shouldn’t work – yet somehow it does, and it’s a joyous thing! A

18. Aliens: The Original Comic Series 30th Anniversary by Mark Verheidan, illustrated by Mark A. Nelson - A beautifully designed oversized hardback collecting the 1980s comics that continued the story of Hicks and Newt after the events of the movie Aliens (and before Alien 3 rendered it all moot). It’s a good read that has some interesting twists and turns, and a unique take on where the Aliens franchise could have gone: B+

19. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay - An enjoyable novel about the effects a teenage girl’s apparent possession has on her family, particularly her young sister whose eyes the story is told through. It’s an effective tale, but I found it somewhat lacking in chills: B+

20. Arkwright by Allen Steele - A simply brilliant novel that tells the story of Humanity’s first interstellar starship, spanning the generations from the project’s very beginnings in the 20th century through to the ship’s arrival at a distant planet centuries later. I loved this book (so much so that I’ll just about forgive it for the very noticeable typos that cropped up a bit too frequently) - one of the very best sci-fi tales I’ve read in a long time: A

21. Star Trek Volume 12 by Mike Johnson - The latest collected edition of stories from the Star Trek comics line sees Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise meet their Mirror Universe counterparts, while a second tale explores the backstory of the Orion character Gaila. The Mirror Universe story is a particular highlight of the run so far, and a thoroughly enjoyable read: B+

22. Star Trek: Manifest Destiny by Mike Johnson - The crew of the Kelvin Timeline Enterprise (that’s the JJ Abrams universe if you didn’t know) come into conflict with a group of rogue Klingons who seize the ship as part of a plan to take control of the Empire. A decent Star Trek graphic novel: B

23. Return to Tomorrow - The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Preston Neal Jones - A massively comprehensive tome detailing the troubled production of the first Star Trek movie. This remarkable time capsule gives an incredible insight into the film and its many issues, and includes some startlingly honest opinions from the 70+ members of the cast and crew who are interviewed. A fascinating read for Trek fans and those interested in film production: A

24. Guidelines for Mountain Lion Safety by Poe Ballantine (Kindle) - The latest collection of one of my favourite author’s writings contains more stories of Poe’s time spent traveling across the U.S. in his earlier years, along with contemporary tales of his new life as a husband and father. Joyous, honest, and in places heart wrenching: A

25. The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S. A. Corey (Kindle) - A short novella from the universe of The Expanse. This story details what led to the character Fred from Leviathan Wakes being given the name ‘the Butcher of Anderson Station.’ A quick read, and entertaining enough: B 

26. We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson - Thoroughly enjoyable story of a teenage boy who, when presented with the option of saving the world from destruction by aliens he calls the Sluggers, has to consider whether he actually wants to save humanity. The second young adult book I read this year, and one of my favourite reads of 2016: A

27. Spock Must Die! by James Blish - The first ever Star Trek novel is something of a curiosity as obviously it was written without knowledge of the countless hours of television and film to come. In this tale, the Klingons go to war against the Federation after somehow neutralising the Organian race who had forced peace upon the Empire and the Federation in the television episode Errand of Mercy, while at the same time the efforts of the crew of the Enterprise to learn what has taken place results in the creation of a duplicate Spock. There’s a few character quirks throughout that make the characterisations of the Enterprise crew a little ‘off’ but this is still a fun read: B+

28. Star Trek: The Fifty Year Mission – The First 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman (Kindle) - A fantastic book detailing the origins of Star Trek and the production of the original series TV show and movies. The book takes the form of an oral history, collecting snippets of interviews from those involved in the series, and revealing information that even I, a seasoned Trek fan, was unaware of: A+

29. Star Trek: The Fifty Year Mission – From Next Generation to J.J. Abrams by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman (Kindle) - Continuing on from where the first book left off, the second volume of this series delves into the creation and production of the modern Trek series, with plenty of discussion and commentary on the politics and strife that went on behind the scenes, and information about Trek projects that were never realised. Both volumes are an essential read for Star Trek fans: A+

30. Star Trek: The Classic Episodes by James Blish - A beautifully put together collection of some of Blish's TOS novelisations in one giant leather bound volume. Wonderfully written versions of some of the original Star Trek's best episodes which often expand upon or differ from the source material, making them a unique read: A

31. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Kindle) - The second book in Chambers' Wayfarers series is markedly different from the first, picking up on threads left dangling from the events of the first story but with the focus shifting to the characters of Pepper and Sidra, the former AI of the Wayfarer. While this is an unexpected shift, the story is nevertheless a great one with two strong female protagonists: A

32. Star Trek: Starfleet Academy by Mike Johnson - This Star Trek graphic novel introduces a group of new young characters and ties their story into one featuring the cast of the Kelvin Timeline Enterprise crew during their time at Starfleet Academy. It's a good read, and one that surprised me with its quality: A 

33. Bone: Coda by Jeff Smith - A wonderful final chapter in Smith's Bone saga. It's slight and not strictly speaking necessary addition to the Bone legacy, but it's a joy to see the Bone cousins back in action once again. Also contains the Bone Companion detailing Smith's effort to get his masterpiece into print: A

34. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - Second book in the trilogy that began with Illuminae; Gemini starts as its own story set along similar lines to Illuminae with two new teenaged protagonists finding themselves facing an armed takeover of a space station, before picking up the threads of the first book and weaving them deftly into one tale. A great story and like its predecessor, a visual treat: A+

35. Lazarus by David Bowie and Enda Walsh - The book of the musical telling the tale of what happens to the alien Thomas Jerome Newton after the events of The Man Who Fell to Earth. I loved the stage show, and reading this script helped bring greater clarity to moments I missed when I saw it performed: B+

36. My Neighbour Totoro by Tsugiko Kubo - A beautifully packaged and wonderfully told novelisation of the acclaimed Studio Ghibli film, telling the story of a young girl’s move to the countryside and their discovery of a strange creature living in the nearby woods. A delightful tale: A 

37. The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. Van Vogt - A classic sci-fi novel that was among the inspirations for the original Star Trek television show. The book is told in an episodic fashion, effectively as three interlinked novellas detailing not only the crew of the Space Beagle’s interactions with alien life forms, but also the politics they face among themselves during their long voyage. A fun read: A

38. The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998 by Charles Schultz - Another collection of Schultz’s masterpiece as the series draws towards its final years; even after so many years, Schultz’s humour and penmanship remained first class well into their fifth decade: A

39. The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000 by Charles Schultz - The final volume of daily and Sunday strips sees Peanuts draw to a close after almost 50 years, and an emotional goodbye in Schultz’s very last panel. This collection also features the complete L’il Folks, Schultz’s precursor to Peanuts, a fun addition that provides glimpses of how Snoopy and the gang ultimately came to fruition: A+

40. Ofelia by Gilbert Hernandez - Another Love and Rockets collection that features the ongoing misadventures of Beto’s cast of characters including, among others, Luba, Pipo, Fritz, Doralis and of course, Ofelia. Always a great read: B+

41. Star Trek Volume 13 by Mike Johnson - The final volume in the ongoing Star Trek series set in the Kelvin Timeline features two of its finest stories; the first is a fitting farewell to Leonard Nimoy’s elder Spock that details his attempts to aid the Vulcans of this timeline in finding a new home, while the second sees a crossover that could only happen in the comics as the crew of the original series encounter their Kelvin Timeline alter egos. A treat for Trekkies: A+

42 Groo: Friends and Foes Volume 2 by Sergio Aragones - The second book in the Friends and Foes miniseries sees Aragones’ warrior meet more familiar faces and cause increasing amounts of chaos along the way! A fun-filled read: B+

That's yer lot then. At 42, I managed a smidgeon less books this year purely because, I'm guessing, some of the ones I read (I'm looking at you, Star Trek: The Classic Episodes and Return to Tomorrow) were huge and very heavy and would cut off the supply of blood to my legs if I didn't ration the time I spent reading them. As is often the case though, after Christmas I have a lovely stack of new books ready to get stuck into in the New Year, so hurrah for reading!

Right, whatever you're doing I hope you have a very happy and healthy New Year, and maybe - just maybe - I'll be back here soon…

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Clusterfuck Wednesday

Today was supposed to be a pretty straightforward kind of day. Up until yesterday afternoon I didn't actually have any plans for today, but then that changed (in what was supposed to be a lovely way) and it's all taken a bizarrely weird turn from there.

So Wednesday is my day off. No teaching - the day is mine and mine alone. But the plans that took form yesterday afternoon involved me heading out to Richmond and catching up with two of my lovely pals from Bikram Yoga Chiswick. And so that's exactly what I did this morning and it was lovely, thank you very much for asking. As a result of heading out early I thought I might then pop over to Kingston to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, because I want to see it, and no one else I know wanted to see it, and I quite like a daytime cinema trip anyway. It feels a bit decadent, if you know what I mean. So I headed to Kingston.

The first component of Clusterfuck Wednesday (I do apologise for the swearing; when I first started this blog 10 years ago I decided there would be no swearing. But I figure we're all 10 years older now so we can probably handle it, right?) occurred when I tried to buy a ticket. There was no one at the tills in Kingston Odeon so I used one of the self service machines outside. Having tapped in all my details I was just about to put my debit card in when someone from the cinema walks past me and says "I wouldn't use that one mate - it's been freezing a bit recently. Use the next one instead."

I'm this close to saying "well don't you think you should, y'know, put a sign on it or something?" but instead I say "thank you," take a cheeky step to the left, and tap all my detail in again on the next machine. I pop my card in, the machine flashes up THANK YOU FOR YOUR PURCHASE, and no ticket comes out.

Give me my ticket.

Picture me standing there, reader, scratching my head in what I hope is a slightly bemused yet adorable fashion, and look around for someone to help. Eventually I catch the eye of an Odeon employee. She's really helpful and scurries off to get a key to open the machine and retrieve my ticket, which she reckons has gotten snarled up in the printer bit.

A few minutes later with key in hand she returns, cracks open the machine and retrieves… my receipt. There's no ticket. "It's okay," she says. "I'll walk you in." She does so, and I thank her for her help, after which I have to explain to the man who tears the tickets and lets you in that I want my receipt back, not only because it's the only proof I've got that I paid to get in, but also because I can pop it through on my next tax return.

So I head upstairs to the screen and plonk myself down in the optimum seating position. A few minutes later another man comes in and sits a few seats along from me. The lights go down and the adverts start. And then the screen goes blank.

We both sit there in darkness listening to the adverts and staring at a blank screen and it becomes apparent that the screen is not going to magically reactivate. So I get up, get the other chap to allow me past, head out of the screen and go outside. There is no one around to talk to about the fact that the screen isn't working. So I get on the escalator, go back down to the lobby and tell someone there. A few minutes later I'm back in the screen and - HEY PRESTO! - the screen comes back to life.

Hurrah.

I settle down to watch the trailers. At which point the screen goes blank again. By this time three more people have come in, but it's apparent that neither they nor the other chap sitting along from me give two hoots about the fact we're ensconced in darkness and there's no picture. So I get up and go outside again. Again, there's no one to complain to, so I get back on the escalator, go back down to the lobby and talk to the same person I spoke to just minutes earlier.

"We fixed it," she says.

"I know," I reply. "It's stopped working again."

"Oh," she says. "I'll call the manager."

She plucks a walkie talkie from her belt and holds it to her mouth like she's about to order a tactical nuclear strike.

"Come in," she says. "

"Yes?" Says a voice from the other end.

"Screen 10 has stopped working," she explains.

"I know," says the voice at the other end. "I fixed it."

"A guest says it's broken again," she says.

"That's twice it's broken now," says the founding member of Mensa at the other end.

"He's on it," she reassures me with a dead-eyed look.

"I think I'll get a refund, please," I say, fearing that my potential enjoyment of 10 Cloverfield Lane might be spoilt by me having to leave the cinema every five minutes to report a technical fault.

A few minutes later a lovely yet somewhat stressed looking lady takes me to the tills to issue me a refund.

"Can I have your ticket please?" She asks.

"No," I say. "I never got one." And then have to explain to her the saga of the broken ticket machine. Ten minutes later I run from Kingston Odeon clutching £9.25 in my hands and a resolution never to go back there in my mind.

By this time it's 1.15pm and I still want to see 10 Cloverfield Lane. So I decide to head to Staines (or Staines-Upon-Thames as it's now called for reasons no one seems able to fathom) to catch the 2pm screening at the Vue cinema. Kingston to Staines is about a 25 minute drive. Plenty of time.

Or at least it would've been plenty of time if I hadn't have hit two sets of roadworks on one road, and another set on the road I took to try and avoid a third set further up the first road.

By the time I reach Staines an hour and 20 minutes later, in plenty of time to catch the 3.10pm screening of 10 Cloverfield Lane, I'm at that slightly frazzled point where I'm REALLY HOPING 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE IS WORTH ALL THE HASSLE. I buy a ticket, settle down, and…

Watch the film *phew!*

And yes, it's a great film, THANK FUCK.

But wait, it doesn't end there. After the film I swing by Waitrose to get some dinner. After the day I've had I decide I need some chips, so I pick up a lovely big bag of frozen chunky chips and head to the tills. The queue is only a few people deep, but the lady working it is agonisingly slow, not helped by the old lady who's bought 10 ready meals in the reduced section which are all plastered with barcodes that won't scan. Eventually I get to the front of the queue, and as the lady scans the bag of chips… it splits open.

"Oh dear," she says. "Do you still want these?"

"Not really," I reply as I watch her pluck frozen chips off the barcode scanner and pop them delicately back in the bag.

Anyway, I'm home now, and I don't plan on leaving the house again until Clusterfuck Wednesday is done and dusted.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The host(ess) with the most(ess)

Since going freelance five years ago (five years? Really? Honestly it’s a genuine miracle I’m still alive) I’ve dabbled my filthy little hands in a variety of endeavours: teaching yoga, editing books, a huge copywriting project for a massive retail company, a little bit of design work here and there – you get the idea. Basically all stuff that generally exists within my current skill set, and all lovely things in their own ways.

And then last year I added a new string to my bow: hosting conventions.

I’ll be honest, this is not something I really pictured myself doing, but when the opportunity arose I gleefully said yes because… well, why not?

And truth be told, since I started teaching yoga I’ve discovered there’s something quite thrilling about standing in front of a crowd of people who are basically a captive audience. It’s a nice little boost to the ego (as long as they don’t look like they’re about to invade the stage and thump you).

So last May I rocked up to a reasonably swanky hotel in Birmingham as one of the MCs for Asylum 14, a convention dedicated to the TV show Supernatural (which I love). The other MC was – surprise, surprise! – The Other Half, and it was him that got me the gig in the first place, because Asylum 14, unlike the previous 13 Asylums, had grown so large that the organisers had decided to split it across two stages and they’d asked him if he knew of anyone competent enough to take the job. He didn’t, so I ended up doing it instead. So TOH was on stage one (which could accommodate, I think, about 1500 attendees), and training wheels Timmy was plonked on stage two, which was home to a mere 750.

I don’t remember having too many nerves about getting up on stage in front of 750 expectant Supernatural fans because when you’ve stood in front of 30 people in a yoga studio wearing only a pair of skimpy shorts that are clinging to you with sweat I think you’re pretty much good to go with anything. I do remember being a bit worried that I might balls one of the guests’ names up, or confuse Jared Padelecki with Jensen Ackles and introduce them as Jared Ackles and Jensen Padelecki, but fortunately that didn’t come to pass (there’s always this year, Asylum 16, March 7th-8th).

One of the lovely attendees posted this on Twitter. Honestly, give me a mic and I WILL RULE OVER ALL I SURVEY HASHTAG TIM.
I do distinctly remember getting up on stage the first time, though. It was about 9:15am on the first day and I didn’t really know what was expected of me, so I just grabbed a mic, jumped on stage and gave some spiel about not sitting in the public parts of the hotel, make sure you walk on the left in the corridors, don’t ask the guests for selfies, don’t ask inappropriate questions during the Q&As and really, please no trying to groping your favourite guest. Then I stayed on stage because, well, why not, and tried to be entertaining by stealing a trick from another Timmy and starting a game of Mallet’s Mallet.

So it was fun. I enjoyed bantering with the attendees who were universally lovely even if some of them were mad enough to want a selfie with me (that was allowed, nay ENCOURAGED), and although I didn’t get to chat to any of the guests they were all wonderful too, from Misha Collins threatening me with a sticky angel sword (no, really, that actually happened) to the moment on the final afternoon when Jared Padelecki jumped on stage, wrapped an arm around my shoulders and wouldn’t let go; honestly, trying to get out of that man’s grip was nigh on impossible. His arms are beefier than my thighs.

Me, TOH, my new best buddy Jared and the rest of the Supernatural crew.

As you can probably tell, my first taste of convention life was fun. So when they asked me back for another go I of course said yes.

Convention number 2 was called City of Heroes and was dedicated to the stars of Arrow, The Flash and Gotham, three more tellybox shows I adore. And another lovely time was had, even if I did balls Arrow star Stephen Amell’s name up when introducing him. Am-uhl. AM-UHL. Got it? Good.

Me, TOH and the the City of Heroes crew.
After that came Insurgence, which focused on The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, two shows I’ve never watched, but which have lovely stars. Best Mate Jo is forever mortified that I met her beloved Ian Somerhalder, and might I say if you ever get the chance to see Sebastian Roche at a convention do whatever you have to do to make sure you go, up to and including selling your grandmother. The man is a force of nature and wildly entertaining, so much so that his slot ran over by about 20 minutes on the first day because I couldn’t wrangle him off the stage.

Me gurning like a plonker, my other new best buddy Ian, TOH and the rest of the Insurgence crew.

Bonus Insurgence picture: me holding down a ceramic gnome while Sebastian Roche has his way with it.
Hosting conventions is a fun gig then, and it’s a shame I only get to do it a handful of times throughout the year, because quite frankly I’d do this shizzle full time if I could.

So what have we learnt then?

a) If you’re passionate about a TV show, you really should go to a convention. They're fun and you'll meet some lovely people.

b) I’m available for hosting duties if you want me. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, you name it: I'm your man.

c) I’m an attentioning seeking whore (as if we were in any doubt).

See you at a con soon?

Monday, January 25, 2016

The great NutriBullet debacle of 2016

Anyone who knows me in real life (or irl as the kids say) will know that I eat, for want of a better term, like a four year old. Not as in I start a meal with a smile on my face and end it with the meal all over my face and down my pants, but rather that I don't necessarily eat as healthily as perhaps I could, or indeed should. Which I expect comes as something of a surprise bearing in mind that I teach yoga for a living; in fact, I remember one day someone asked me mid-class if I was vegan. Honest to god I laughed hysterically and stated rather loudly that I was heading out for a cheeky Nandos afterwards. Professional, huh?

But every now and then I do think I should buck up my ideas and look after myself a bit more, which has led to me actually adding the occasional leafy green to a meal and actually quite enjoying it. Spinach is rather lovely as it conjures images of having arms like Popeye, as is rocket purely because its name panders to my sci-fi whims.

However, in these first few weeks of January and after a particularly sugary Christmas, I decided it might be worth throwing caution to the wind and actually trying to be ridiculously super healthy. And that's how last week, after stepping out merely to post a letter, I returned home having bought a NutriBullet.

I've been aware of the NutriBullet for a while now, basically because every yoga person I follow on Twitter has been raving about them for what seems like FUH-EVER. Then, a few weeks back I woke up ridiculously early one morning and found myself watching The NutriBullet Show with David Wolfe and became mesmerised by the idea of its "600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action" which resulted in last week's - *BANG* - spontaneous purchase.

The model I bought was a limited edition cherry red NutriBullet, and three points swayed me to make my purchase. They were, in descending order of importance:

• It was reduced to £69.50 in a Tesco flash sale
• It was cherry red, meaning it would match the kitchen, my kettle and the new Starbucks insulated cup I got for Christmas
• It might make me healthier

Sadly, because I'd only popped out to post a letter I'd walked to Tesco rather than drive, meaning I had to lug it back home in my arms like a big, boxed up cherry red baby, and I didn't have any excess arm capacity to carry any ingredients to put in it. And no, I didn't already have some fruit at home; I've lived in Sparky Towers 10 years now and barely any organic produce has crossed the threshold in that time.

So a few hours later, having learnt my lesson I drive back to Tesco and pick up some almond milk, fruit and kale, which we shall henceforth refer to as HELLSPAWN PLANT for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Upon returning home and with the NutriBullet primed and ready, I hurl some raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, avocado and HELLSPAWN PLANT into the cup, click it in place and blitz the shit out of it using all 600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action.

A minute later I'm staring at a cupful of what I can only describe as a supremely unappetising beige drink. Still, the new healthy me steps up to the plate, and with a cheery fake smile on my face I declare "bottoms up!" to no one in particular and down the malevolent beverage, if not in one, then in at least a couple of mouthfuls. OK, five. And that's after I'd put it down following the second mouthful and gone for a bit of a sit down before returning to it 10 minutes later.

Deciding that HELLSPAWN PLANT was mostly responsible for ruining what should've been a delicious and nutritious fruity drink, I subsequently decided I'd have another bash. This time I used more raspberries, less blueberries, a bit of orange and some almond milk. This attempt was actually quite nice, and I settled down that evening with a look of unnecessary smugness on my face.

It did not last.

I shan't go into too much detail, but suffice to say, like Captain Kathryn Janeway, I now know what a Year of Hell is like. OK, so it was more of a Week of Hell not a year, but as 2016 is literally a few weeks old I think it counts. Basically, it seems my poor, Kitkat and Nandos fuelled system couldn't really cope with me ingesting a bit of fruit and decided to shut down.

Yes, like a desperate drug addict denied their fix, I went full cold turkey.

The first sign was a massive throbbing headache that felt a bit like someone was trying to punch their way out of my head (although on reflection this is entirely possible as there's very little brain in there to fill the space), followed by shaking and sweating, all of which intensified in the days that followed. Friday in particular was peak-cold turkey-ness, as it saw me stay in bed until quarter to two in the afternoon, at which point I got up and could do nothing more than sit on the sofa and stare at the TV, possibly while drooling a bit. Fortunately I'd just started the Gotham season 1 boxset, so I cracked through 10 episodes of that before going back to bed. It's really good and I highly recommend it (I'll leave you to work out whether I mean Gotham or going back to bed, or both).

Now fully recovered and no longer glancing across at the NutriBullet I haven't touched in a week like it's a fully primed nuclear weapon ready to go off, I can say that what I have learnt from this experience is that moderation is key. Yes, I *can* and *should* eat a bit healthier, and work a little harder to get those key five a day portions of fruit and veg into my body (rather than my previous five a year), but it's probably not best to cut out all the fun stuff in one go.

Fortunately, I've since been told in hushed tones of a recipe for a ridiculously healthy NutriBlast (that's what they call the drinks - I know, ridiculous) that legend has it tastes just like a chocolate milkshake. In this way, I reckon I can fool my overly sensitive system into thinking I'm knocking back a Kitkat milkshake when in fact I'm downing the elixir of life. We shall see.

Either way, kale can still go do one.