Ten Years Gone: Reflecting on the #10YearChallenge

If you’re on social media, you can’t have failed to miss the recent #10YearChallenge, which has seen people have been posting photos of themselves from 2009 and the present, to compare how much they’ve changed.

I’ve heard some say it’s been popularised so that facial recognition software has more to work with and can develop ways of recognising faces as they age. Which is a bit of a cloud on what was quite an interesting social media fad.

Of course, I got involved but the whole thing prompted a lot of thoughts and I figured better to share them as a single blog than a lengthy barrage of tweets.

Here’s my picture:

10 year challenge

And here are my thoughts:

I think I’m actually heavier now than I was then. But I think I look better in 2019, and I feel better about myself too. It’s telling that there are only half a dozen photos of me from 2009, and a similar number in the years around it. I used to hate having my picture taken, and that’s part of the reason for the middle finger. In fact, most of the pictures I have from them are me pulling dumb faces, so that when I looked daft or bad, I could say it was on purpose.

I still have issues about how I look, but I’m not as hung up on the photo thing. This is the face I got, the body I have for now, and I’d rather have photos to remember the good times and people in my life. Hell, there are even a few photos where I think I look, well, if not good, then alright.

This is why I don’t agree with people who slam selfies. Taking selfies was something I thought was vain for a long time, but now I take a few. I have control of how I look (to an extent) and every time I have one that turns out alright, I feel more comfortable with my looks. I’ll still avoid catching sight of myself naked in a mirror if I can help it, but I don’t hate my body the way I did for a while a few years ago.

I guess it’s just an important reminder that as much as I want to lose weight that I can’t fixate too much on the number on the scales. My happiness and self esteem is tied into a whole lot more than that.

2009 wasn’t a terrible year for me, not long after this photo was taken I started a new job and I’d started doing sports commentary on a local community radio station, which was cool. I wasn’t paid for it, but it was media related and the first thing I’d done since graduating that gave me some feeling of achievement. After graduating in 2007 I’d had a rough time, readjusting to living with my parents and signing on, amassing piles of rejection letters along the way.

But I think mentally I was still in a shaky place. This trip to see a friend in 2009 was fun, but as with a lot of my “good times” then I was hammered for a lot of it. I wasn’t sure what I was doing with my life, or what I wanted, and I felt pretty worthless a lot of the time. The job I was about to start was a step into the unknown and I was a little scared, not wanting to wind up back on the dole again.

Drinking had been a big part of socialising for me, since my late teens and right through uni. Booze gave me a false confidence, drowning out my insecurities and bringing me out of my shell a bit. It also made me say stupid things, make bad choices and wasn’t great for my physical and mental health. I still drink now, but I’ve stopped the regular binges and can now hang out without a pint or four. And it’s been a long time since I had to endure the awkwardness of waking after a night out and fearing that I’d said or done something dumb.

I was single then and felt like this would always be the case. I’d had one girlfriend and we’d split up about a year earlier, and there was a nagging doubt that it had been it for me, that I was going to be one of those people who never found anyone.

And it wasn’t just in this area that nothing was going on. I had daydreams about various things, but nothing came of them. I made no effort to chase them, I just daydreamed and moped that my life was dull. It was a traditional vicious circle- I was bummed out because I wasn’t doing anything with my life, and annoyed that I wasn’t doing anything about it. But I was in too deep a funk to make the effort to change things.

In 2019, I’m definitely in a better place. While the work front is still a bit of a dud, I’m actively trying to achieve my dreams and ambitions. I’ve got back into writing and am planning to send off my first novel in the next month or so, and I’m chasing down a couple of things to help tick off some bucket list items.

I’ve also built a life for myself, a life which I’m very happy with. I’ve got a wife who loves and supports me, and I’m extremely happy to have found her.

I’m working on improving myself. Not just by getting healthier, but by working harder to be nicer, kinder and more considerate. I still fall short, I get angry, I get impatient, I can be tactless, but I try and I’m getting better at checking myself before I do something that might upset someone.

I look at the picture of me in 2009 and I see a guy who was happy, but only in small moment, often just adrift and worried. I see a guy who was still trying to be the guy he’d been at uni, and didn’t see the problems and flaws that I’d developed there. I used to say that university had helped me a lot, and I think it did. It made me more confident in myself, it made me more outgoing. When you move to a new place you have to make the effort to make friends and stuff, but I was blind to the bad habits I’d picked up along the way. A lot of my confidence had come from being seen as funny, and it took a while for me to realise that a lot of the humour I used at this time was quite unpleasant. I was meaner, sarcastic and distinctly more laddish.

I’d see it when my friends from uni interacted with my family or friends from back home. Or when I’d make jokes that wouldn’t go down well elsewhere. It wasn’t my friends that was the problem, it was that I was different people in different places. In between the two was me, but I hadn’t worked out how to figure out who that was. I’d become this loud, laddish guy who drank a lot and it took a while to work out what I liked about the changes from university and the ones I needed to shed.

I still get confronted by it when Facebook throws old status updates and I see my crude, poorly thought out gags and comments. I needed to work out who I was and while I still don’t feel like a real adult at times, I think I’ve definitely grown up since then.

As I said, I’m still working on myself, and who knows, 2029 Chris may cringe at some of the things I say now.

I’m more comfortable with myself, I’m more confident to call things out when I think something’s out of line, not just laugh it off or ignore it. I’m more considerate and thoughtful, less hard line in my stances, willing to listen to other voices and consider things from different perspectives. I’ve changed my mind on things, or realised that while I might disagree with some things, that it doesn’t make them stupid.

I’ve also become a lot happier expressing who I am and what I feel. The laddish costume that covered my insecurities is gone. I don’t mind admitting to crying over things, of being weak and scared. I don’t care if some of the things I like are seen as goofy or lame.

Basically I enjoy being me a lot more now.

Dark Chris is still there, with his negativity and doubts, but I’m more equipped to deal with him now. I can look and think about what he whispers, figure out how to work on them, as opposed to just covering it all up or making it a joke.

Dark Chris will always be there, but I just hope that I can strip him of his weapons one at a time, that I can drown him out with the good stuff. That he’s a mere speck of dirt, barely visible in the glow of Sunshine Chris, who helps me feel good about myself.

Sorry that was a bit of a ramble.

In short, I think I’m better now, and I’m trying to keep being better and don’t I look better with short hair and a beard?

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: No Wrong Turns by Chris Pountney

Yet again, I torture myself with travel writing. This is the first book about Chris Pountney’s attempt to travel around the world on his bike, with boats being the only other acceptable vehicle choice. There are no planes, trains or automobiles, because apparently quite a few cycle tourists will use the other modes on their travels. Pountney is going to cycle the whole thing, and not just in a convenient loop, nope, one of the other goals he sets himself is to cycle through 100 countries, leading him on a twisting, winding route across the world which sometimes sees him double back on himself.

This tells the first part of his journey, from Paris to Sydney, and it frequently made my feet itch. Cycle touring sounds damn appealing, a nice way to really see the day to day life of a country and culture. Of course, I doubt WoM would be up for this style of roughing it, and there’s also the pesky problem of not being able to ride a bike.

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Pountney’s journey is a fascinating one, with him providing commentary on the different countries he passes through and picking up on cultural differences. Throughout the book there’s a constant theme of human kindness, with Pountney being offered food and shelter along the way, along with small interactions with friendly, helpful locals. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however, and Pountney shows the rougher side of life on the road- scammers, dangerous drivers, rude people and the unwelcoming.

It’s one of these dark patches that provides one of the biggest emotional punches of the book. On a road in Mongolia, a country which seems in the grips of a vast alcholism problem, Pountney witnesses a horrific car crash. He attempts to help but has to contend with apathy from the other bystanders and one hysterical helper who does more to hinder him. Pountney’s writing captures the chaos of the scene and he doesn’t shy away from the mental aspect, discussing the way the incident affected him. It’s here that the loneliness of his trip comes into sharp focus, and you feel for this man alone in a country where he can’t communicate how distressed and shaken he has been left.

Pountney is an honest writer in terms of his emotions, he confesses his fears and doubts, reflects on the moments when he was tempted to jack it in. A decision at a border crossing may seem minor and trivial, but he does a good job of making readers see just how important it is and what it means to him. It helps that he’s an incredibly likeable and funny narrator, capturing vivid caricatures of the people he meets and making little asides. I particularly liked the recurring motifs of his talking bike and his fantasies of what the film version of his trip would be like. Who hasn’t daydreamed about who would play them in a movie? (Nick Frost, if they de-age him, or Seth Rogen, if he puts weight back on. Personally I favour an animated movie, where I’m voiced by Samuel L Jackson).

There are a few points where I was a little exasperated by him, however. There’s his view of other travellers and tourists, which seems a bit smug, but I guess having been in the dark corners of countries he can see the fabrication in the more popular areas. It still seems a bit condescending to me. And there’s his constant quest for female company, which is a recurring theme.

It just gets a bit tiresome hearing a guy daydreaming about meeting beautiful women. I mean, we all do it, but keep it to yourself.

But the relationship side does give the book a bit of heart. There’s an early relationship with and old friend which is destined to be short lived, and a more optimistic ending, when a girl he meets on his travels decides to fly out and join him for a while in Australia, where he plans to stop and work to raise funds for the second half, which I will be downloading on my Kindle in the very near future.

All in all, it’s a fun, easy read about one man’s journey which gives you a humorous, personal insight into various countries and, for me at least, makes you wish you could just hit the road yourself.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Film Review: Aquaman

It’s weird that the DC movie that hit home for me the most is based around a character that I’ve never had a lot of time for. Perhaps it’s the talking to fish thing, or the orange and green colour scheme, but Aquaman has always been the butt of plenty of jokes and is possibly the lamest of DC’s big 7 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, The Flash and Green Lantern being the other six).

What this movie does well is lean into the goofiness and absurdity, eschewing traditional superheroism and opting for more of a fantasy movie vibe, and sheds the moody, brooding style of the DCEU so far. This is a film that is unapologetically fun, and all the better for it.

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We get the backstory of Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa), the child of two star crossed lovers, the Atlantean Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and lighthouse keeper, Tom (Temuera Morrison). Gifted with the ability to breathe underwater along with increased strength, using his powers for good.

When a submarine is attacked he stops the pirates, but leaves the leader to die. The captain’s son, David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen III) vows revenge and escapes to his stealth submarine.

Back on land Arthur drinks with his father and questions what his role in the world is, as he feels apart from the regular people on the surface and harbours ill will for his underwater kin after they executed his mother because of her relationship with his father, Arthur feeling guilty for this.

Arthur’s half brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) plans to wage war on the surface dwellers, but needs to get four of the other underwater kingdoms to back his play. The first leader he approaches is Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), who commands the biggest army, Nereus is reluctant but their meeting is attacked by a submarine, and Orm convinces him that war is inevitable.

Orm attacks the surface, almost killing Tom. Arthur rescues him thanks to the aid of Mera (Amber Heard), Nereus’ daughter and Orm’s betrothed. Mera, who knew Atlanna, doesn’t want war and believes that Arthur’s claim to the throne is strong, but as an outsider Arthur may not be accepted. To win their acceptance he must retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis.

And so, Arthur and Mera head off on a treasure hunt, while Orm recruits Kane, aka Black Manta, to hunt them down and keeps trying to recruit the other nations. Can Arthur find the Trident? Can he find his place in the world and overcome his doubts? Is war between Atlantis and the surface inevitable?

As you can see from the synopsis, this is a traditional fantasy quest adventure, the Trident standing in for Excalibur. The story moves along at a decent pace, with some well executed action sequences, particularly a scrap in Sicily.

The climactic battle is suitably epic, and the Orm vs Arthur smackdowns are handled very well, and I really liked some of the nice touches like the differences between the undersea realms- we get super evolved mermen, weird crab men and some creepy creatures that live in the dark depths. Not being a massive comic book fan I’m not sure how much of this is in the books or newly invented, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a wonderful colourful world of rival factions.

You know what it reminded me of? Flash Gordon. And I love that flick.

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There’s the same vibe of a world made up of distinct and interesting peoples, and a playful, slightly tongue in cheek tone. It doesn’t go all out camp, and it could do with a few more Queen songs, but that’s the film it reminded to me the most.

It also has a similar hero. Arthur isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, more of a brawler than a strategic genius, and the film gets plenty of humour from the fact that half the time he’s just winging it. This impetuous nature and quick temper is contrasted nicely with Heard’s Mera, who is more thoughtful and knowledgeable. Heard is really good, carrying herself with a regal air, but with softer touches and a sense of fun.

In fact the whole cast are great, especially Patrick Wilson as the villain, who is humanised just enough to give depth without going too far and making it difficult to really root against him (see: Ant-Man and the Wasp). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Black Manta because, frankly, I get why he’s got it in for Arthur, who could have easily rescued his dad.

It’s weird seeing Nicole Kidman in such a small role, but she does it well, although part of me couldn’t shake the fact that they should have gone for Daryl Hannah.

And I loved seeing Dolph Lundgren back on the big screen again. Dolph Lundgren is awesome.

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But the film belongs to Jason Momoa, who carries himself with real swagger and charisma, making Arthur a very likeable and watchable presence on screen. WoM says “extremely watchable” and I suspect that there are plenty of viewers who will enjoy purely because he spends quite a lot of the film with his shirt off.

This will hopefully be the big breakthrough for Mamoa, who has the makings of the next big action hero. I’ve enjoyed his work before, but it never really landed, but here he knocks it out of the park. He embraces the silliness without lurching into parody, and shows good comic timing along with his physical attributes.

For the first time in the current cycle of DC films I’ve actually come out really wanting to see more, for me this is the strongest film they’ve made and I hope we get more of Arthur’s adventures in the future.

8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 

 

 

 


Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns

The 1964 movie Mary Poppins is a much loved classic, the kind of film that most people will have seen at least once as a kid, and has been loved by successive generations. My parents saw it as kids, I watched it as a kid and I’m sure at some point my nieces and nephews will sit down to watch it. And I’m sure they’ll love it too.

Making a sequel over half a century later is a risky proposition, and Emily Blunt is stepping into the firing line as she takes on the role filled by Julie Andrews, who is practically perfect in the original. She must have known that she’d always be compared to Andrews, and that’s a big ask of a performer. So, how does she do?

mary poppins returns

In fairness to Blunt she does admirably in the title role, and while she’s not quite up there with Andrews, she comes pretty close. She manages to capture the haughty, prim and proper exterior and the underlying mischief within, and she shows a bit more sneakiness than in the original, while still being the same character at heart.

Here it’s obvious from the get go that she’s there to help the Banks family with more than just childcare and she’s very proactive in sorting out all their problems. As a kid, the fact that she was there to help Mr Banks as much as Michael and Jane kinda passed me by until the end of the movie, when he cracks and moves away from his workaholic ways, but I suspect kids will know early doors that Mary Poppins is there to help the fully grown Michael (Ben Whishaw) get back on track.

We meet Michael in dire straits, recently widowed he is alone raising his three children, aided by his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and scatterbrained housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters). A painter he has had to take a job as a bank teller, and having taken a loan is now at risk of losing the family home. He has five days to find the shares his father has in the bank which will save the house.

At the same time, the elder two children Annabel and John (Pixie Davies and Nathaniel Saleh) are overly serious and grown up for their ages, and the younger son, Georgie (Joel Dawson), has his playfulness and imagination stifled. Into this comes Mary Poppins, who announces that she has returned to help the Banks children, and she soon has Annabel, John and George joining her on various adventures into fantastical worlds.

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The children learn to embrace their imaginations and have fun, as well as come to terms with the loss of their mother. This in turn helps Michael and Mary helps to try and save the house. Meanwhile, Mary Poppins plays matchmaker to Jane and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a cockney lamplighter who previously worked as apprentice to Mary’s old friend Bert. Jack is the children and Mary’s companion on their travels, and he and his fellow lamplighters come to the rescue a couple of times.

Jack is essentially filling the Bert role, a working class Londoner who helps out the characters and knows of Mary Poppins’ magical abilities. LMM’s cockney accent is better than Dick Van Dyke’s and he is a charming, likeable presence throughout. His love story with Jane is handled well and is quite endearing. He serves as out introduction to the film, singing the opening number and offering advice to the kids and to Mary Poppins. LMM is probably one of the film’s strongest assets, and his performance is great. I’d heard the name but wasn’t familiar with him, but he is the standout here and I’ll keep an eye out for him in future.

It helps that the entire cast is on fine form. The child actors are pretty good by kid standards, managing to be cute without being cutesy, and their performances don’t feel forced which is rare for child performers (see all the kids in the first two Harry Potter movies).

The adult cast are solid across the board, with Julie Walters in comfortable territory as the eccentric housekeeper and Colin Firth relishing the chance to step into villain country again. In a cameo as an eccentric relative of Mary Poppins, Meryl Streep is having a ball, and is quite funny, if over the top. Emily Mortimer is charming as Jane Banks, even if she is rather underwritten in places.

Ben Whishaw gives the movie it’s emotional heart as Michael Banks, the brokenhearted widower left hopelessly adrift. His solo number near the beginning is extremely moving and the biggest emotional clout comes when he finally breaks towards the end, the pressure finally crashing down on him as he cracks in front of his kids. It’s a performance of quiet, sadness and desperation, and when he finally breaks down it has a genuine power and realism to it.

I’m not ashamed to say that at this moment I got rather emotional myself.

It’s interesting that like the original, this is a kid’s film where the real emotional focus of the story is actually the parent, not the kids. Sure, we feel for the kids and their loss, but this is definitely more about Michael’s journey.

This story about the father figure needing rescuing is one of many areas that the movie resembles the original, and throughout you find that the film is toeing a fine line in terms of nostalgia. It’d be impossible, and daft, not to have nods and similarities to the old film, and some of these work rather well. There are returning characters in the form of Ellen the housekeeper and Admiral Boom, the eccentric neighbour, who’s habit of firing a cannon on the hour is here given slightly more resonance and importance.

The best use of callbacks comes in the music and artwork, the opening titles being very similar to the original and making the film feel more connected, and the music which uses the old familiar tunes is a great way to set the tone. They provide a sense of continuity between the films, and the familiar melodies stir old memories and affection. It’s one of the ways the film is clever in it’s use of nostalgia while still trying to forge it’s own place and story.

Some of the elements don’t quite work as well, particularly Jack and the lamplighters, while the character is fantastic and LMM gives a spirited performance it does feel like them trying to get Bert into the movie without being able to have Bert be in the movie. Similarly, some of the plot points are similar as are the musical numbers, which while good fun can’t quite match the old favourites.

But this is a minor quibble, and for the most part the nostalgia is handled well. It’s unavoidable, and the film does it’s well to honour the original movie. There’s a brief appearance from Angela Lansbury, one of Disney’s legends, and it’s wonderful to see her on screen again, but you sense the filmmakers probably wanted Andrews for the part. Andrews wisely felt her presence would throw the movie off, and wanted this to be Blunt’s movie, which is extremely gracious.

While fans lose out on seeing Andrews her former costar Dick Van Dyke does make an appearance, and frankly, I lost it a bit when he turned up. When he makes his entrance is a massive moment of joy and nostalgic glee, but what tops it all is when he performs a dance. Seeing him on the big screen, dancing once again was a bit too much for me and I got a bit choked up, I was just so bloody happy.

mary poppins returns dvd

Disney’s gamble pays off and this is a charming, fun and engaging family film. While it doesn’t quite match the original for me, I suspect for younger viewers this will become a beloved favourite. It uses nostalgia effectively, but it’s a story in it’s own right. The performances are uniformly solid. Blunt doesn’t quite match Andrews, but she still gives a wonderful performance.

I think it manages to pull off the tricky proposition of pleasing old fans and a new generation. A lovely, old fashioned, feel good movie.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I remember going to see this in the cinema and it being the first Disney movie that didn’t impress me, aside from Pinocchio and for years I carried residual bad feeling about it and didn’t rate it. However, WoM and several other people have raved about it, I gave this another watch a couple of years back and was pleasantly surprised, although I can kinda see why it didn’t work for me as a kid.

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At eleven years old, my major interest was football. I was obsessed and didn’t have much time for anything else, geekdom not yet having claimed me. I was also in that awkward phase when you’re starting to get judged for what you like, and this wasn’t going to earn me much credibility.

Also, at the time I think the slightly dark tone of the movie wouldn’t have won me over and I’ve had viewed it as a bit dull. This is ridiculous as I’ve grown to quite like gothy, moody stuff in moderation and this film massively lightens the source material. Not that I’ve read the Victor Hugo novel but a read of the Wikipedia summary makes it sound grim as all hell. What turned me off as a kid is actually what I really dig about it now.

The darkness starts early when villainous Frollo (voiced by Tony Jay) chases a gypsy woman through the streets, finally catching her outside of the eponymous cathedral. He snatches her bundle away and she falls, cracking heer head and dying. Cheery.

The bundle is actually her young child, who has severe deformities (apologies if deformities isn’t the correct term here, but that’s the only word I can think of. If you suggest one politely in the comments, I’ll switch it). Frollo, being a top guy decides that he should drown the baby in a well, but fortunately, the Archdeacon is on hand to lay some serious Catholic guilt on him, reminding him that “the eyes of Notre Dame” have seen his actions. We then get treated to the staring, hard faced gothic statues of saints and kings staring down at Frollo ending with JC himself.

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Creepy

The Catholic theme is strong throughout, and not just because it takes part in the cathedral. We see characters praying to Mary for help and it’s evident that religion is behind the motivations and issues of the antagonist. Frollo is incredibly dark and far more human than most Disney villains, a raging man who believes himself just and righteous. He hates the gypsies of the city with a manic fervour, decrying them as heathens and corrupt, and placing himself above them morally.

He’s manipulative and bullying to Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), the deformed child he took responsibility for, drilling into him that he is a monster and that the world is cruel. He demands obedience and gratitude from Quasimodo, despite constantly insulting and lecturing him. But the darkest part, and one I didn’t fully understand as a kid is Frollo’s interaction with Esmeralda (Demi Moore), the gypsy dancing girl who captures the attention of all the male characters. Despite his hatred of gypsies and his moral posturing, he is deeply attracted to her, and this obsessive desire, which threatens his image of himself as a pure, virtuous man drives him towards madness.

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Frollo’s lust conjures Esmeralda in the flames of his fire

It’s a very adult angle for the villain, with the repressed desire, guilt and hatred all bubbling away within, a far more psychological motivation than the the average kids’ movie villain. As a kid I probably missed all of this, as I definitely hadn’t clocked what Esmeralda was talking about where she angrily replies “I know what you’re imagining” when Frollo grabs her and talks about imagining a rope around her neck. She sees through his facade, and recognises the urges he has.

When his desires are frustrated Frollo erupts in a storm of violence, ordering houses burned and the gypsies rounded up. It’s racial hatred presented plainly as horrible, unfair and cruel, and the film should be applauded for addressing this head on. Similarly it shows the ugliness of mob mentality, the way the crowds jeer and humiliate Quasimodo the character who the audience know to be sweet, kind and innocent.

Quasimodo’s attraction to Esmeralda is far more innocent than Frollo’s, based largely on the fact that she is the first person to be genuinely kind to him. And yet, when he realises that she cares for Phoebus (Kevin Kline) he reacts by going in a self pitying sulk and initially refuses to help Phoebus warn the gypsies of Frollo’s impending rampage. It’s the only moment that Quasimodo’s heroic character cracks, the moment he deals with the sting of rejection. His own petty hurt almost pushing him to ignore doing the right thing.

Of course, he comes good in the end, allying himself Phoebus and Esmeralda in winning the day, giving the couple his blessing. The central characters are well done here, with Esmeralda being a fiery, strong willed heroine who stands up for herself. She rallies the people against the injustice of Frollo’s rules and also shows kindness to others throughout. She’s also given a bit more of a sexier vibe than the traditional Disney heroines, which works for the character who knows that she is desirable and uses this for her own gain.

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The best looking Disney heroine?

Kline’s Phoebus almost steals the show, however. Phoebus looks every inch the hero with his gleaming armour and dashing looks, but there’s a knowing humour to Kline’s performance which stops him from being a cheesy archetype. He’s sarcastic and somewhat overconfident, but charming and heroic, to such an extent that he threatens to overshadow the hero.

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Scene stealing Phoebus

While the human characters are brilliant one of the movie’s missteps is the inclusion of three talking gargoyles who serve as Quasimodo’s friends within the bell tower. While the vocal work of Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander and Mary Wickes is fine and they have some funny moments, they jar against the heavier, darker tone of the rest of the film. I appreciate that the filmmakers probably felt they needed to inject some humour into proceedings but this is done better through the dialogue of Phoebus and Esmeralda. Perhaps it was just a way to allow us insight into Quasimodo’s thoughts, which it achieves, but it could have been better.

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Funny but feel out of place at times

The disjointed tone is one of the things that hampers this film, as is the fact that Quasimodo is a rather dull protagonist. He’s likeable to a point, but he’s so consistently nice for much of the film that he doesn’t feel like a real person.

The gothic touches and human aspects are probably a bit too dark for kids, but some of the humour is a bit lazy for adults. There are moments when it really gets going, but it fails to maintain this over the course of the whole movie, which is a shame. It’s a lot better than how I remembered it as a kid and I’m glad I gave it a second chance, but it’s still a distinctly second tier Disney movie, due to it’s inconsistency.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Resolutions 2019

I did okay on my resolutions for 2018. I completed three out of eight, and the others are kind of ongoing things which are hard to measure. I’ve decided to try and make it a nice round 10 this year, so here we go.

1. Lose Weight

I managed this in 2018, but it was a bit up and down during the year, I’d like to be more consistent with it, perhaps having it be a steady decline throughout the year. I don’t have a set weight I want to hit, but I’d like to shift a couple of stone at least.

2. Monthly Update on Weight

This worked really well last year, meaning that even when I did badly I had to ‘fess up and also made me think more about my body and my attitude towards it. Will try to make these posts more interesting and dig a bit deeper. They definitely work as a motivational tool as I don’t want to have to write about how crap I’ve done.

3. Complete a Race at Your Pace Challenge Every Month

Since I got my first medal after completing October’s challenge, I’ve got hooked on doing these. I’d love to end 2019 with 12 medals and I’m going to try to do at least 100 miles each month.

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4. Try to get published

I had this on the list last year but time ran out on me. I’d finished a novel and edited it, but it was too late to send it to anyone. Gonna have another quick look at it and hopefully send it off in the first quarter of 2018.  If nobody wants it I’ll look into self publishing.

Also want to finish the second book I’ve half written, and send that out. Will try to update more on this as the year goes on.

5. Be Nicer

I’m trying to be a better person. I need to keep trying.

6. Be More Sociable

I have lovely friends and family, and I need to see them more. I owe it to them to stay in touch better, and it makes me feel better. Need to make more effort to get out and not waste my days off.

7. Cross Off at Least One Bucket List Item

I managed to get one done last year (see here) meaning I’ve averaged one a year for the last two years, I’d love to keep this going and I actually have a few plans going towards a couple, so I might tick a couple off, which would be cool.

8. Get New Ink

I have three tattoo ideas that I want to get done, and I’d love to get one at least this year.

9. Go to the Gym More

I joined a gym in 2018, but haven’t used it enough to justify it. Need to change this, will help with the weight loss and make me feel better.

10. Try New Things

There’s a lot out there to experience out there. The bucket list item will cover some of this, but I’d like to try one new thing every month.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


2018: Thank the Gods that’s over

In 2016 and 2017 there was a surprising amount of negativity as the year drew to a close, with high numbers of celebrity deaths, depressing news stories and the ascendancy of the right wing leading many folks to call these the “worst year ever”. I thought this was quite a daft claim, as a cursory glance over the 20th century shows that these probably weren’t the worst years of the last 100, and further back life appears to be have a rather grim slog.

It also highlighted that it’s all relative. While people griped about 2017 I just looked back at is as the year I got married, the year I got my dog, the year I got to go to Walt Disney World. Sure, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but for the most part 2017 was a pretty good year for me personally, one of the better ones of my 33.

2018, however, hasn’t been that great. And yet online it seems to have just been a bit of an average year. All relative, isn’t it?

I can’t say it’s been a horrible, relentlessly dire 12 month slog, and there have been some really good days, some nice events and even some great things happening.

But if I was going to chart this out like Dave Gorman, the highs of the year would only be a few notches over the “Average” line, while there are a couple of bad things which are way below it.

I’m not going to go into it too much. It’s quite personal stuff and while I will probably write about it at some point, I don’t feel in the right head space to do so at the moment. And it would make this post massively long.

This year has thrown some really difficult stuff my way, from health issues, to the return of personal demons I thought I’d vanquished, to some really trying circumstances.

There was a long period where I was struggling with some pretty dark stuff, and depression returned. I spent a long period in a deep funk, and it was only thanks to the support of friends and family that helped me get past it.

Another thing that happened this year is that once again I handled stress badly, and this caused tension with me and WoM, which made me feel like an utter heel because she was going through difficult stuff too. I could see where I’d gone wrong and I’ve talked about how I cope with a few people and have tried to set up better strategies for the future, they appear to have worked and after a long stretch of difficulty, I pulled myself out for the second half of the year.

The health stuff was trickier. I knew I wasn’t fit, but being confronted with evidence and some problems shook me deeply. It’s part of the reason I’ve tried harder with the weight loss stuff and why I’ve cut way back on my drinking. Luckily, the wonderful NHS were great and the treatment I’ve received means that I’m doing a lot better.

One of the problems was that I found out I had sleep apnea, which is basically that because of being a fat bastard my airway was closing while I slept, depriving me of oxygen. Apparently over the long term this can actually damage your brain from oxygen deprivation, the shorter term effects were that I wasn’t sleeping properly, the irregular breathing waking me up throughout the night, meaning that I never got into deep sleep, leaving me groggy and not refreshed even after hours in bed. I also would get tired during the day, and would fall asleep on pretty much every car journey. This is annoying enough in the car, as WoM would have to sit in silence as I dozed next to her, but is even worse on a bus, where I’d wake up confused, miles from where I was meant to have gotten off and drooling on the shoulder of the poor passenger next to me.

I got given a mask and a machine which blows air into my face, keeping my airway open and allowing me to sleep deeply for several hours. It also makes me look like a fat, hairy Bane.

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Self portrait of me wearing the mask

The positive change was obvious pretty quick, I felt better when I woke up and wasn’t as tired during the day. I started to feel better within myself, and to have more energy, which meant I was getting out and about more.

This helped immensely, going out for walks gave me a chance to think and clear my head, as I’ve never been someone who does well staying in for days on end. It also made me feel better about myself, helped me lose weight and thanks to joining the Countryfile Ramble made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile.

In truth, from August onwards the year improved, but it’ll be the bad times that came before it that will define this year in my memory. The good moments lacked the power to topple the bad ones, and while I feel like I’m in a better place as the year comes to an end, I’m glad to see the back of 2018, and to start a clean slate in the new year.

But I don’t want to end on a downer. And so, here’s a short list of the things I’m happy about from 2018:

  1. That I did quite well on the year’s resolutions. I achieved three and worked towards the other five.
  2. I’m feeling a bit better about my body and my health. Adopting the Race for Your Pace challenges has really helped me, providing motivation and a feeling of accomplishment.
  3. Speaking of accomplishment, I’m proud that over the last 12 months I raised £381.86 for charities. It feels good to help others and means I am slowly chipping away at my bucket list item to raise a million over my life time. Only £999,618.14 to go!
  4. Going forward there’s a lot to look forward to. I’ve already started making some plans for 2019, and hopefully these will help it be a much better year.
  5. My wonderful wife, family and friends. I’m extremely lucky to have so many loving, caring people in my life, who I share joy with and who provide comfort during the difficult times. I must try not to take this for granted and to ensure that I show them my gratitude and appreciation for everything they do for me

So, hopefully in 12 months my annual recap will be a lot more positive, and I hope that you haven’t had too rough of a 2018, reader, and that 2019 brings you happiness, good times and fun.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin

Five years.

I’ve been waiting five years for George R. R. Martin to release the next instalment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I reread the whole series thus far last year, as I’d heard rumours that book 6, The Winds of Winter, was due out in 2018. It never appeared. Instead, we got this book, which is set in Westeros, but doesn’t continue the story, giving more background and history. But, so desperate for some new material I seized upon it.

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This book tells the first part of the history of the Targaryen dynasty, spanning over a hundred years of fictional history. It begins with Aegon I using his dragons to conquer and unite the Seven Kingdoms, before going on to tell the stories of his successors and their reigns on the Iron Throne. Martin brings us right up to the beginning of the reign of Aegon III, who takes the Throne as he turns 16, relieving his regents of the task.

I quite enjoyed this book and it’s hard not to admire the sheer depth and scope of the world that Martin has created. As he crafts this history he manages to create fascinating stories and subplots, interesting moments and asides which create a sense of a rich and detailed universe.

But the style used, a history crafted by a character within the world, robs the reader of some of Martin’s best traits as writer. It lacks the immediacy and gripping edge of the other novels. One of the best features of ASOIAF is that Martin brings everything down to the ground, shifting perspective between a group of characters to really engage the human aspect in a world of magic and monsters. The changing perspectives also challenge reader attitudes and ideas of good and bad, creating a world of shifting sympathies, complex characters and infinite shades of grey.

While there are some moments of ambiguity here, the story is more straightforward and as interesting as the stories are they’re told in a detached manner. It’s a pity as some of the events and characters here would have made for great novels in their own right, instead of being minor elements here. I had this impression when I read The Princess and the Queen last year, and that tale is reprinted here, but there are other parts which you wish he had delved deeper into.

That being said, there are plenty of great stories here and Martin continues to eschew romanticism, injecting brutal reality and grim cynicism into proceedings. There are even moments of black humour.

I especially like that it reads like a real history, with the narrator debating the sources he has to work with, comparing different versions of the stories and posing different theories for the actions of the players involved.

It’s a decent read, but I couldn’t help feeling that I would have preferred Martin not to have bothered and cracked on with the Winds of Winter instead, oh, well, hopefully it arrives in 2019.

Verdict: It’s a solid and fascinating work, but the style hampers Martin and it feels like a missed opportunity, like brief summaries of novels you wish he’d write. Still, it entertains and the scale is impressive. I’ll  definitely read part two. A helpful dose of Westeros for his fans as they await the next novel. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: December and 2018 Update

Let’s be honest with each other folks, while November ended on a positive note, with a consistent run of weight loss, none of us expected December to go well. I resolved to try my best, but with advent ticking away and Christmas looming ever larger on the horizon temptations began to pile up.

Family events, chocolates at work, chocolates at home, Christmas parties. And then the big day itself, December was a gauntlet I had to run, and like many a contender on Gladiators, I was about to get wiped out.

The first half of the month went quite well, as I resisted temptation and kept up my walking. I lost four and a half pounds over the opening fortnight, and was feeling pretty good.

What a fool I was.

Week three of advent kicked my arse, and getting on the scales revealed that I’d lost pretty much gained what I’d lost. And that was before Christmas.

Like every year I over indulged, with a couple of monster meals and grazing on selection boxes and snacks, although I did only have the one alcoholic drink, a double Jack and coke, so there was some self control at least.

Two days after Christmas was the final weigh in, and I’d decided that in the interests of honesty I would share the results here, having previously planned not to include Christmas. I thought this was a bit of a cop out, and a bit of a faff continuity-wise. So, feeling a bit guilty for not being better, I hopped on the scale.

A gain of 2.5 lbs. Not the best, meaning that I end December two pounds heavier than I started it. Which is a bit shit. I mean, not as bad as I feared, but still, a pretty crap way to end the year.

Or at least it would be, if I didn’t consider the rest of the year.

My weight loss campaign in 2018 wasn’t a massive success, but I have come out at around half a stone lighter than I started. This is largely thanks to me making more of an effort for the last couple of months, and since September I’ve lost a decent amount.

Unfortunately, while I had hoped for a continuous downward slope on the scale, that hasn’t been the case. In fact, around the halfway point, I was heavier than I’d started in January. It’s been a stop start journey through the year, and I have to accept the blame for that. A couple of times this year I’ve just stopped bothering and taken lazy, unhealthy options. This has usually been at times when I’ve been feeling down or bad about myself anyway, but it’s a vicious circle as it just makes me more down on myself as I feel lazy, greedy and ugly.

I’m proud of the effort I put it, but there’s definite room for improvement. I need to resist using food as a comfort mechanism, it just doesn’t help.

I don’t equate my value to what’s on the scale, but I do frequently feel uncomfortable and unhappy with what I see in the mirror and how I feel within my own body. I’m not saying I’m on some quest to end up looking like a white, pale Jason Mamoa or anything, but I just want to feel more comfortable.

My goal for 2019 is to keep up a consistent weight loss regimen, resist junk food and to stop eating when I’m sated, not completely stuffed. I’m going to try to string 12 Race at Your Pace challenges together, and I’ve also got a few other things planned which I need to be a bit fitter for.

So, at the end of the year I feel a bit better about myself, happy with the efforts I’m making, if a little disappointed that I let myself down at times and didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I’m going to have to keep what works and change what doesn’t. Anyway, I’ll see you at the end of the January, as the monthly updates will continue.

  1. Week 1 6/12- No change
  2. Week 2 13/12- down 4.5 lbs
  3. Week 3 20/12- gain 4 lbs
  4. Week 4 27/12- gain 2.5 lbs.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Favourite Books of 2018

That time of year, when I look back over the previous year and pick my favourite things. We’re starting with books. I read quite a few new books this year, so here is my top ten, divided, as ever, into fiction and nonfiction.

Nonfiction

5. The Panther in My Kitchen by Brian Blessed

The legendary actor recounts his misadventures with the animals he has known during his life. All are told with gusto and enthusiasm, and you can hear Blessed’s booming voice in your head throughout. Endearingly eccentric. Review here.

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4. I’m Sorry, I Love You by Jim Smallman

Smallman provides an entertaining, funny and insightful look into the history of professional wrestling, detailing the evolution and challenges faced by the business and the weird and wonderful characters who have taken part in sports entertainment. Review.

3. Spike Milligan’s War Memoirs

I read the first two parts this year, and while the first was definitely stronger both are hilarious, with Milligan delivering amusing anecdotes and a steady stream of quips and gags. One man’s war told in a vivid and hugely enjoyable way, will be reading more of the series next year. Reviews of Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall here and “Rommel?” “Gunner who?”.

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2. Encounters with Animals and Menagerie Manor by Gerald Durrell

Durrel’s writing is filled with warmth and charm, and his enthusiasm and love for nature is infectious. Both of these books are delights, one dealing with animals in the wild and the other his misadventures in running his own zoo. Wonderful stuff.

1. The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

A beautiful and poignant memoir of a unique experience, Bauby’s writings, completed while he lay in his hospital bed, trapped within his own body is a poetic, moving and oddly inspiring example of the strength of the human mind and the power of memory and imagination. Review.

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Fiction

5. The 87th Precinct Series by Ed McBain

A perennial favourite, I read three of the series this year and they continue to entertain me, as McBain is a master of the crime thriller. The three were Like Love, the gripping mystery Ten Plus One and the short, sharp story of Ax.

4. Adrian’s Undead Diary Series by Chris Philbrook

I read parts 5-8 this year and thoroughly enjoyed the build up to the major conflict, and Philbrook’s ability to craft a detailed and involving zombie apocalypse, mainly through the eyes of his loud mouthed narrator. The story goes in some interesting directions and the spiritual and mystical aspects of the story set it apart from most zombie stories. Highly recommend. Reviews 5, 6, 7 and 8.

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3. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman brings his wit to bear on the Norse myths, retelling the stories of Odin, Thor and Loki in entertaining, clever prose. A real delight. Review here.

2. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Eames writes a fun fantasy adventure which infuses a world of sword and sorcery with the spirit of rock and roll. Fantastic read, and can’t wait to read more of Eames’ work. Review.

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1.  14 by Peter Clines

Clines writes a gripping and chilling supernatural thriller as the residents of an LA apartment block start to investigate the weirdness of the building and discover a long hidden secret which could change the world. An utter delight of a book where Clines slowly builds unease and oddness towards a big reveal which doesn’t disappoint. Review.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.