Freedom?

Okay, first of all, I’m Welsh and I’ll admit that I don’t know all the specifics, but this is my blog and these are my opinions. Feel free to disagree, but try and keep it civil.
This week sees the Scots vote in a referendum which could mean the end of the United Kingdom. If they go “Yes” they leave and become independent.
All the polls show its still too close to call, with the “No” camp maintaining a slim lead.
This in spite of the disastrous idea to send David Cameron North of the border to fight the case for unity. Because if anything will convince the Scots to stay its a posh English Tory. It would have been better to have Cameron root for Scotland to leave, many would have voted “No” just to spite him.
Personally I think they’ll stay. A lot of powers have already been given to the Scottish government and going independent is a big risk.
While they have oil and tourism, standing on their own feet without UK or EU support will be challenging. I’m not saying Scotland will turn into a 3rd world country overnight but it will be difficult. Becoming an EU member could take up to 5 years, which is a long time, especially for a new country to go it alone.
Tourism may also be effected and events like the Edinburgh festival may seem less appealing to UK acts and audiences if they need passports to go.
And in all honesty I want the Scots to stick around. The Scottish and Welsh or on relatively friendly terms, based largely on a mutual dislike of the English, and while their independence could grant the Welsh assembly increased powers, which would be nice, I do think the UK works better for us all. It ain’t perfect, but name a country that is.
If the Scots leave, I wish them the best, but I hope they stick around.
As for Welsh independence? It’s a pipe dream, and would be a disaster. We’re too small and skint to make a go of it.
The only way it would work is if an independent Wales threw in with the Scots and Irish to form a Celtic Alliance of some sort. I can’t see it happening and sometimes you have to listen to the wise philosopher Kylie Minogue: “better the devil you know”.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Stick with love

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear- Martin Luther King

When you encounter hatred or bigotry it can be easy to want to reply with anger or hate right back. But sometimes it’s better to just rise above and come back with a more positive approach. It especially helps if you can do it with a laugh or a smile on your face.

One of the most hateful groups in the Western world at the moment is the Westboro Baptist Church, a bunch of uber-right wing “Christian” nutbars who spout some of the vilest, cruelest abuse and employ classy tactics like picketing funerals and talking smack about recently deceased celebrities who have died because they are either gay or “gay enablers”.

Though small in number (thankfully there’s only around 40 or so members), they’re a loud bunch, taking to the social networks and using the media to generate attention for their bigoted outbursts. Their founder and leader Fred Phelps passed away earlier this year and I had hoped that this would lead the group to fragment. Now free of their leader I’d hoped some would examine what they spout and realize it’s not exatly what JC was all about.

Anyway, back to humour as a weapon. The WBC have faced ridicule and mockery before, with people combating their own including from Silent Bob himself, filmmaker Kevin Smith:

Kevin Smith pickets the WBC picket of his film Red State with some daft, funny signs.

Kevin Smith pickets the WBC picket of his film Red State with some daft, funny signs.

So when I recently read about a crowd funded campaign to stick it to the WBC I was amused and cheered. Started on Facebook and attempting to raise money through Indiegogo, the idea was to raise $50,000 (£31K approx) in order to raise a sign in the WBC’s hometown of Topeka, Kansas. The sign would be a response to the WBC’s infamous “God hates f**s” signs.

god loves gay sign

Fantastically the money seems to have poured in and they’ve even raised enough to raise another sign in Provo, Utah. Apparently because Provo is where Bingham Young University is there, which is a very fundamentalist Christian school, which I’ve written about before, and seems like a nightmare to study at, unless you’re into repression.

I’m not sure if there is a God, or gods, but I’d like to think that if He/She/they are out there they’re not some bigoted, hateful being because quite frankly, if they are, I’m with Desmond Tutu, and I’d rather go to hell than spend eternity in a place based on hatred.

So, I hope that they raise these signs as a sign of love and humour, and as a positive response to the negativity of the bigots.

Story here.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle Du Jour

Last year I moved into halls again. It was strange going back to living in a tiny flat with five other people, especially as I was older than the others. 10 years older.

Because of this I earned the nickname “Grandad” and when watching Monsters University was told I was Don, the mature student. All quite funny, and nice of karma to get me back for mocking an older (though younger than I am now) student when I was a fresher at Lampy.

don

So I probably shouldn’t say this, because it’ll just give ammo to those who mock me for closing in on 30. I’ve read this book before, but had forgotten I had.

belle du jour

They do say that memory is the first thing to go, but this is ridiculous.

I knew I’d started this book a few years ago, a friend had a copy lying around so I perused it. It was mildly diverting but I assumed I’d been interrupted and never finished it. So I borrowed it off MWG and waded in. There were a few passages I recalled and others that seemed oddly familiar, but it wasn’t until the last couple of entries that I thought “hang on, I’ve read this before!”

The fact that I’d forgotten the book might sound like a damning criticism of Belle’s diary, and I guess it is in a way. The book’s not terrible but it’s not that great either. BDJ is a decent enough writer, smart and funny, but it’s all rather samey after a while. It doesn’t really leave much of an impact.

It’s raunchy in places, but being a working girl BDJ’s style is more frank than titillating which works in places, but I suspect may disappoint some readers who were looking for bedroom inspiration. Its interesting to have a look into the life of someone in such a different walk of life, but it all feels slightly sanitized and, dare I say it, dull. Luckily, BDJ is never in danger or harmed in her working life and her home life is just as incident free, aside from a slightly stalkerish ex.

The writers of the television adaptation must have had their work cut out adapting it into an engaging and raunchy show, or maybe they just got away with it by having Billie Piper go around in her underwear for much of the show.

billie piper

The often humorous tone raised a few smiles and it’s a quick, easy read, but can’t say it grabbed me. I think the greatest problem for me was BDJ. Not because of her line of work, but because of her. Others obviously like her style, but to me there was a snobbish streak throughout that I found off putting and the sections featuring her male friends left me cold. They just seemed like an insufferable bunch.

It’s worked for others, and sold well, but it did very little to me. I don’t think it’s just my advancing years that made me forget it, there’s very little impact here and just a few hours after reading it I’m struggling to remember more than a couple of moments from the book.

Verdict: Well written in places, it’s not the wank-fodder some may expect and in places it’s rather dull. BDJ is funny and clever, but all too frequently I found myself infuriated by her. Sometimes an unlikable protagonist can be interesting, even compelling, but BDJ just reminded me of the kind of person I’d try to avoid in real life. Disappointing. 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Favourite Children and Young Adult Books

Monday was International Literacy Day, so I decided I’d do a list of books that I loved as a kid, or as an adult but feel will work for kids.

It’s not an “all kids should read” list because I hate those things, as on the adult lists there are always books that I’ve never read or heard of, and some I’ve hated (hello Charles Dickens and James Joyce), so these are just my personal recommendations, and what, I might try and guide little Shane to check out.

I’ve done my top ten in vague order, and they’re a mixed bag, all are probably suitable for 7-8 years plus, but some are probably better off being left until they’re in their teens.

10. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series are incredibly well crafted adventure stories for kids and the first three in particular are fantastic reads. The later installments bloat a little but by then you’re hooked and Rowling crafts characters you really care about and a fantastic magical world. She should also be commended for making reading cool for a generation of kids and hopefully creating a lifelong love of books.

harry potter books

9. The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot

A teenage girl in the States is actually a Princess in Cabot’s series which are cringe inducingly hilarious. Princess Mia is a relatable, believable heroine and they’re incredibly entertaining quick reads.

8. The Diary of Anne Frank

Confession time. I haven’t read all of this book. I started to read it when I was probably at the wrong age, and Frank’s pre-hiding entries annoyed me. I suspect that this is more due to my own immaturity at the time, as opposed to any failing on her part. I think this book is important because seeing it through the eyes of a young girl is a good way to teach kids about history and ensure that the holocaust doesn’t fade with each passing generation.

7. Ultimate Spider-Man by various

In my early teens I discovered comics and while I’ve always been a reader I think they definitely helped cement reading as one of my major passions. Picking a comic for a young audience is tough, and with many having back stories that span decades and can be rather convoluted it’s hard to find an easy jumping on point.

However, Marvel’s Ultimate universe, which rebooted several heroes in a more contemporary, realistic (as realistic as heroes can get) world is probably the best place to start. It’s scrapped a lot of the back story and started afresh. For younger readers the best intro is Peter Parker as Spider-Man, because he’s close to their age and one of the more fun heroes.

The series has great moments and if it grabs them there’s always the other Ultimate titles and the original Marvel universe. And DC. Basically this is the gateway drug into comic book geekdom.

Wall crawling

Wall crawling

6. Anything by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is genius. Pick any of his novels and go for it, his magical, clever fantasy novels are gems. My personal favourite is probably American Gods.

american gods

5. Anything by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett’s hilarious fantasy novels are amazingly complex and loaded with daft humour and sardonic asides. Some function better with older audiences who will get more of the references and allusions, but all are entertaining enough that even if some pass you by you’re still entertained. Start with the Truckers books before going on to the fantastic Discworld series.

4. Matilda/The Witches/Boy by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was a genius. His kids books are filled with grizzly detail and his greatest skill is that he never talks down to his audience. There are dark moments shot through but plenty of laughs too. I’ve narrowed it down to three- Matilda is Dahl at his most charming, while The Witches is full of creepy invention and suspense. His autobiography of his childhood, Boy, is also blessed with the same mix of charm and glee in the disgusting, and features some wonderful anecdotes.

3. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

In a dystopian future a young girl is forced into taking part in a violent gladiatorial contest against other teens. Through this she becomes a folk hero and rebellion figurehead. It’s high-tempo, action heavy stuff with a fantastic heroine in Katniss Everdeen and the third installment, which some have slated worked for me as it shows the murky, harsh reality of war. Fantastic stuff and all three parts have been reviewed on the blog before- 1, 2 and 3.

2. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

I wrote an in depth review here, but in summary, Green’s story of two teenage cancer patients who fall in love is heartbreaking and affecting, but still has enough bite and wit to avoid being excessively maudlin. But have some tissues ready.

the fault in our stars

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I studied this at GCSE level and it remains one of my favourite books of all time. Narrated through the eyes of a child who doesn’t always understand what’s going on, Lee’s only novel focuses on the simmering racial tensions in the Deep South in the 1930s, centred around the trial of a black man accused of rape. It’s dramatic, intense stuff at times but there is plenty of humour and in Atticus Finch, Lee creates one of 20th century literature’s greatest heroes- honest, fair and a fantastic father, it’s the kind of character everyone should be exposed to.

Peck as Atticus in the movie version

Peck as Atticus in the movie version

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

I’m a geek so I follow people like Nathan Fillion on Twitter, as I have a man crush on him and he’s appeared in four TV shows I’ve really dug. During a Q&A he was asked about books, either what he was reading at the time or had liked recently and he mentioned this book. Now, a recommendation from Fillion probably would have added it to my extensive “To Read List” (I currently have a full shelf, two growing Amazon wishlists and a rapidly filling Kindle full of books I haven’t got around to yet), but what sent it right up to the top was the premise- Superheroes vs zombies.

Like I said I’m a geek, and caped crusaders and the living dead are two of the things I’m slightly obsessed with, and I’m always amazed that they’ve never really been done properly. I don’t count the Marvel Zombies series because it seemed like a cheap stunt by artists who wanted to draw zombie versions of heroes rather than actually dealing with the familiar characters battling the walking dead and upping the tension. I always thought DC would be more suited to a zombie tale, especially if it focused on Gotham and had Batman and co. besieged and having a few major characters turn. But that’s just my opinion.

Whatever, back to the book.

ex-heroes

The novel jumps between the run up to and aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, and focuses on the last stand in LA. Within the reinforced walls of a film studio a group of survivors try to survive, protected by the last of the superheroes. They’re under pressure and a few of their comrades have been turned over the months.

The flashbacks chapters are told from the perspectives of different heroes. shading in their backstories and dealing with different stages of the outbreak, from the first early rumours to the last ditch fights and serves to give us further info on the different players in the story.

The major hero is St George, a flying and seemingly invulnerable hero who formerly went by the Mighty Dragon. He’s a symbol to the normal survivors and the most idealistic of the heroes, putting him at odds with the more cynical/rational leader Stealth. St George helps on scavenging missions and defending the walls, and on one of these runs discovers something new and dangerous about the dead (called ex-humans throughout).

I really dug this book, the idea is solid and there are some nice touches throughout. The flashbacks work well, not just showing us St George and the major players, but some of the minor heroes we see along the way, some of whom are already “exes” when they turn up. Clines switches tone and narrative voice fairly well, and the heroes are interesting enough.

Clines’ geek credentials are front and centre, St George is rather nerdy, excited by his powers and living the comic book dream, making reference to comics and sci-fi throughout and being asked by another character whether he reckons he could take Spider-Man in a fight. Another nice touch is the supporting characters’ competition to bag the most impressive celebrity kills. This being LA several characters discuss taking out stars of the screen along the way and there’s a lot of dark humour to it.

It’s not perfect, Clines’ writing gets a little repetitive in places and he could be better at building at tension at points, but it’s a hugely enjoyable novel and goes beyond the high concept premise. The characters are interesting and engaging, and there are some nice touches to the traditional zombie lore.

Some of the action sequences are well handled and there are a couple of twists which are well handled, and it definitely entertained me enough that the rest of the series have already been added to that list.

Verdict: Clines still has room to develop as a writer, but this is still an engaging and entertaining novel. The heroes are interesting enough and the world he’s created is well done. I look forward to more from this series. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


What meltdown?: How Miley Cyrus is actually kinda cool

I’m 29 years old. I have a Motorhead tattoo. But I love me a bit of Miley Cyrus.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be getting some Miley ink anytime soon, but I kinda dig her. “Can’t Be Tamed” and “Fly on the Wall” were good, catchy pop tracks and I dig her stance on marriage equality. Plus there’s her ace version of Jolene:

I think she’s managed to be fairly successful at emerging as a more grown up star after initially finding fame as a squeaky-clean kids’ TV star.

Last year she got a lot of flak for her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, where she twerked against Robin Thicke and the world clutched their collective pearls, decried her lewdness (in the process of saying it was wrong she grinded on a married man everyone forgot that really the married, older man was probably the creepy one in the situation) and acted as though she was flying off the rails.

For someone who remembers the hysteria over the Madonna-Britney kiss (everyone forgets she kissed Christina Aguilera too), it was depressing to see that nowt had changed in around a decade, all it took was a formerly sweet, innocent star to act slightly sexual and dress in skimpy clothing for everyone to lose their minds.

I’m not saying I was all for the Miley-Thicke performance, I’m not a Thicke fan and his Beetlejuice suit and Cyrus’ hair were faux pas even someone as fashion ignorant as I could see.

Everything she did was treated as further evidence she was turning into a rock ‘n’ roll tragedy before our eyes- she had a haircut! She smoked weed! She broke up with her boyfriend! She got more tattoos!

She’s 21! Most twentysomethings will do at least 2 of those things at some point.

Then the video for “Wrecking Ball” dropped (that’s right isn’t it? That’s what the kids say about something being released, yeah?) and this created fresh hype. She was crying in the video, she was nude- yadda yadda yadda!

miley wrecking ball

Outrageous on stage activity added to this and all these people were saying she was definitely cracking up. Personally I wasn’t buying it. She wasn’t doing anything dangerous or stupid, there didn’t seem to be massive distress and it wasn’t like the worrying slide Britney Spears went on a few years back.

I thought Miley was being quite smart, she was burning her bridges and using the controversy to draw attention to herself while still doing good work (“Wrecking Ball” is a pretty decent, heartfelt track) and enjoying herself.

A sign that Miley might be more on the ball than people thought came at this year’s VMA’s. A year after her raunchy antics caused a fuss, Miley was back with a mystery man on her arm. She picked up the award for Video of the Year (for “Wrecking Ball”) and sent her date up to accept it.

Her date turned out to be Jesse Helt a homeless man, who she’d met through some charity work. He read a statement revealing his identity and guiding people to Cyrus’ Facebook page which showed how to donate to the charity, My Friend’s Place, which aids homeless youths.

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Backstage And Audience

It was a clever move from Cyrus, as she used the instant online discussion of her date and a large televised event to draw attention to an important issue and help generate donations to a charity doing good work. As of August the 27th it had generated $200,000 (approx £124K).

Miley also responded well to a disappointing backlash, which felt Helt had “chosen” to be homeless as he’d left his family and home to pursue a modelling career in LA. Yes, how dare a young man pursue his dream.

Others drew attention to Helt having a criminal record and breaking parole. Miley’s response was quite good, arguing that the media had ignored the opportunity to discuss the issue, preferring to “go after” Helt, acknowledging that Helt had been through hard times and made mistakes, and asking “Does looking down upon the homeless help people excuse their inaction?”

So, yeah, all in all I think Miley Cyrus is pretty cool.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Unfinished Business: A sort of review of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This week I took my second tilt at Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’d tried reading it a few years ago and stalled in the first few pages, moving on to something else relatively quickly, but I’ve heard a lot of praise for Conrad (Paul Theroux mentions him a few times, my Mum has spoken positively) and I was interested in this book in particular because it’s loosely the inspiration for Apocalypse Now, which, while deeply flawed, is still a pretty amazing movie.

apocalypse now

So, I downloaded it to my Kindle a while back and decided to give it another go sometime. I tried again, and while I got further than before (16% of the way in) I still couldn’t get into it and I set it down again to read a book about zombies and superheroes.

This probably makes me look like some attention deficient, shallow nerd, and maybe I am, but I’ve decided recently that there’s nothing wrong with ditching a book, even one that arrives with a big reputation. The fact is, sometimes you’re just not getting it, and I definitely don’t get Conrad.

heart of darkness

Don’t get me wrong, the man can write and some of his descriptions are evocative and well done, but character wise I wasn’t engaged. It doesn’t help that he employs two narrators and the first basically slags off the second for being meandering and telling pointless stories. This is then the man who takes over the story and I, for one, found myself agreeing with the introducing narrator.

It takes a long time to get to Africa, and by that point I’d lost all interest and decided to move onto something else.

I may have another attempt in time, but for the moment Heart of Darkness is just leaving me cold and I’ll move onto something that grabs me more.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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