Winter of Post-Discontent, or: How I Learned to Stop Griping and Just Chill with the Killer Chill…

IMG_0704

Into the winter wonderland woods…

Oh, snow way! Yes way. Everything went white and the temperature turned subzero. Winter came and my neighbourhood transformed into something resembling Narnia or an Ice King freakout. It’s really, really cold. Even prior to the snowfall it’d been nippy and, to be honest, pretty glum weather-wise most of the time (you probably know what they say about rain and Manchester). It’s winter, so all the green things are dead and now all those dead plants are symbolically buried beneath several inches of snow.

I tend to associate winter with death. I’m a summer sun child, somewhat afflicted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I’m uncomfortable if the temperature dips below 15°c. I’m charged by solar energy and I feel best when I’m wearing only one layer of clothing. My natural temperament is entirely at odds with the winter and, to put it simply, winter kind of kills my buzz. (And in the UK, if winter takes up roughly 2/3rds of the year, then I’m at odds with the season most of the time when I’m here.)

Thus, musing on death happens more often in the bleak midwinter. All the trees are dead. All the flowers are dead. By 4.30pm daylight is dead. All my summer spirit is dead (or, at least, it’s ebbed away). And what’s more, in the real world, great famous people keep on dying and the news reads as a list of obituary notices and posthumous tributes. There is much mourning. It’s dark and cold. Chilly shivers course through my marrow, and then I go to the movies to watch dark, violent films about people dying in unforgiving winter conditions (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight).

And then I take all of this death, darkness and dreariness and I dash out into the snow, slide around a bit and say to myself “Hey, you morbid drippy bitch! Smile! You’re alive and life is beautiful!” And I am smiling and I am alive and life is beautiful (it always is, in spite of it all). Good news! Somewhere along the way I seem to have found a way to co-exist with winter and reconfigure the whole experience as something that’s actually pretty cool (cool as in ‘good’ good and not ‘mildly cold’). Somehow I managed to significantly downgrade my level of SAD and I did it without resorting to indoor hibernation and death by tea, heavy metal and hot water bottle burns (my usual survival remedies for the season).

I’m not sure how this happened, and all I can conclude is that I just acquired a more enlightened and upbeat attitude. I also probably got bored of being freaking hostile to forces far beyond my control (keeping up constant bitterness and antagonism is wearying, y’know). Winter has to happen so I may as well just accept it and enjoy it as best as I can. I operate in this fashion in the summer months – soaking up as much sun as possible while others hide in the shade because I know that the heat of the moment will pass. Winter shall also pass and the cold won’t linger forever (this isn’t Narnia or Hoth). Neither will the fleeting flakes of winter magic that I’ve noticed when I’m not too busy muttering: “Damn, it’s too bloody cold!

Simple pleasures like knitwear, hot showers and steaming teapots after a day out in the cold make winter alright. I’ve also found tremendous beauty in the season this past week. Those aforementioned films showed me humans (and horses) suffering in extreme winter conditions, but they also reminded me – through film artistry and the language of cinema – just how beautiful winter can be. Winter isn’t a war on nature or on me or the pretty precious little flowers and suchlike – it’s a part of the grand cycle of life and has a wonder of its own.

(I apologise for turning into Captain Obvious here. Try and appreciate that this is written by an over-sensitive, simple soul with poor circulation and he’s only recently come out of the cave and cast off his snow-blinds. You may take this stuff for granted but, for me, it’s a psychological breakthrough and personal psychological breakthroughs deserve a “woohoo!“)

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn...

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn…

When I emerged from the cinema having watched The Hateful Eight this weekend, I discovered that light snow was falling. Frost had been on the ground when I entered but now little floaty motes of white were lighting up the early evening dark. It felt a bit magical, and I wandered around Manchester city centre marvelling at the sight, well-aware that I’m about to leave this place for few months. I stuck my tongue out to catch snowdrops. I idled around in neon-lit Chinatown a while, just watching snow fall on the Chinese Arch. Then I got on a train home and, arriving in my neighbourhood, found that the Saturday snow was even thicker up here.

Sunday morning it was thicker still. I woke before dawn and went out on a trek through white stuff at sunrise just to appreciate the winter wonderland that had occurred. I made my way to a vantage point and gazed across the landscape, from Winter Hill right across to the redlights atop Beetham Tower. It struck me that Greater Manchester and the moors of Lancashire in my relative backyard have never looked so beautiful to me. I felt connected to my homeland, and that was the work of winter.

Walking onward, the world woke up and I started encountering people – some walking excitable dogs, some clearing driveways and de-icing cars while kids built snowmen and played around with sledges. Little birds bounced around the frosty branches overhanging the footpaths and all the familiar roads looked so picturesque and clean coated with snow. So much for death and dreariness – there’s life, energy and pleasure in winter.

I’ve made peace with the season and had a profound moment the past week that helps me appreciate home all the more before I head off to foreign climes (and those climes aren’t much warmer than Northern England right now). I’m now going to head out for a walk in the snow and enjoy it while I still can. The moral of this winter’s tale, then? Acceptance; living in the moment; appreciation of natural magic and the beauty in all things; opening your mind and venturing outside of your comfort zones (though be sure that you have a hot shower and a cup of tea ready for the aftermath.)

Brrrrr, it’s so pretty…

There's Winter Hill in, erm, winter...

There’s Winter Hill in, erm, winter…

Advertisements

Kill, Kill, Natural Born Killer! A new chooseable path adventure…

Slash! Bang! Crack! Other assorted action noises, followed by signs of damage, destruction and grim bloody death! I’m doing some horrible things and will be doing some horrible things and here are fresh details…

I’ve launched a new blog and this here is the blog: ‘So, who do you want Nina Desai to kill next?‘ It’s a choose-your-own-adventure-style story about a natural born killer named Nina Desai and I intend to add something to it on a daily (or quasi-daily) to stimulate my writing and imaginative muscles and have some creative fun.

I like this kind of storytelling and always have a blast when I mess around with it (like when I’ve employed it in teaching English to Italian kids or when I’ve collaborated on The Working Barbarian saga). This particular character and kick is also inspired by my love for movies about lonely assassins and sociopathic avenging angels (both the sublime and the ridiculous and both at the same time, from Lady Snowblood and Branded to Kill to Lèon and The American to Kill Bill, Hanna and The Equalizer and so on, so on as the bodies stack up). I saw John Wick the other night and it reminded me of that fondness and fascination, so I decided “Yeah, I want to playfully pay tribute to the genre and write my own silly sprawl about someone who just kills and kills and kills and kills!” That someone is Nina Desai, and you can get her introduction by reading this first instalment.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s the charm and challenge of a creative project like this. I also figure it’s a good idea to dabble in different, more ‘mature’ material after focusing solely on child-friendly fare for several months. Please, don’t hesitate to pitch in – either by commenting on the posts, hitting me up on Twitter or sending me an email – so I can keep it going and hopefully write some absurd action scenes and glorious fictional deaths. Because I’m a despotic control freak who likes to maintain a veneer of democracy, the most popular choice (or the only response) will be the one I follow. I urge you to abuse your power and I hope you enjoy this fresh chooseable path adventure/distraction/writing exercise. As for me, I’m writing ridiculous ultraviolence, so I’m definitely enjoying it…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins…

I like writing and I like having fun with dead people so today I wrote a story about a ghost. This story, like most of the stories I upload here, is an effort for John Steele‘s Pictonaut challenge which I’m still trying to catch up on (’cause it’s January, and I’m only up to October as you’ll see in two sentences’ time). Same objective as always: the Steele Supreme selects an image every month and says “yeah, write something inspired by that”. The following photo (we know not its source) was picked as October’s picture, back when it was Halloween and there was suitably seasonal spookiness in the aether…

It’s a ghost! Unfortunately, no one knows who took this photo. I’d like to pretend that it was a ghost because that’s a nice fantastical thought and saves us from guilt about not correctly attributing our human sources. (Ghosts don’t have human rights, right?)

I like this picture. I saw that phantom and, after thinking it through a few minutes set about knocking out the following vignette. It’s called The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins and I hope you enjoy it…

Barbarians Work (and Kill) on Bank Holidays…

Yesterday it was a bank holiday, but I don’t think we should have holidays for banks. Really, banks are among the most awful institutions ever conceived. I’m thinking about banks and feeling nauseous. Ick. Oh, I’d love to to live in a world bereft of such things alongside people and creatures who do not care for economic systems and suchlike. Barbarians who inhabit fantastical realms only visitable within the imagination care not for banks. Barbarians of said fantastical realms do not take bank holidays either. Yeah, let’s trip back to yesterday and head over to those realms…

Yesterday The Working Barbarian was working (what bank holiday?) for a new chapter surfaced in cyberspace. The collaborative crowd-sourced saga continues apace and it fell up on me to take the narrative on after the climax of our hero Jala’s boss battle with the dread Magebane. Readers voted on the story’s direction and decided that Jala should kill the villain, so I have duly killed her. You can read that in the new instalment – chapter the two-and-twentieth which is titled Death Drives. After reading you then get to cast your vote and choose where we go from here. I encourage you to do so, and you can always go back through the various chapters or check the Recap-O-Rama I wrote if you need to get up to speed with the unfolding story and surrounding mythos we’ve built up.

I will leave you with the power metal-heavy Working Barbarian Workout Mixtape I used as mood music for writing the fresh episode. Savage sounds for scripting slaughter can be found in the playlist. It might make excellent motivational music for your next visit to the bank…

 

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Drawing Up the Final Dagger’…

Hark! In the midst of all the festive faffing around, there’s a monthly short story challenge to handle. As per usual, I’ve handled it and answered the Venerable and Very Excellent Mister John Steele‘s call for fresh fiction. On the first day of December, British Steele set the following painting – Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks  by Ilya Repin – as the inspirational image for this month’s Pictonaut challenge

“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire” by Ilya Repin, 1880-1891.

Repin’s painting is a striking one and the whole background history behind the artwork is fascinating. It’s a fantastic story of the drafting of the most profane and vulgar riposte to a belligerent enemy’s unreasonable demands ever. It contains a “your mum” joke and, quite frankly there’s no response to that and any words I write about the Cossacks will be pale and pitiful in comparison. I can’t do justice to those audacious historical heroes…

Fortunately when I went about the process of studying the picture and trying to work out what story I wanted to tell I got hit by outside influences. The outside influence is something I’m personally obsessed with and spend a lot of my time thinking about and following. It has nothing at all to do with 17th century Ukrainian history but in the positioning of the figures in the frame I felt a visual symmetry to something else. I also really wanted to grapple with one of my biggest enthusiasms and represent it in a fresh creative experimentation so yeah, why not? An idea for a short story with a twist and total off-tangent possibility stepped up and I just shot it and produced the following tale – Drawing Up the Final Dagger.

I will not say anything else about it ’cause it would probably kill the mystique and the effect. I hope you enjoy my December Pictonaut dribble…