2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

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2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

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Heart…

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Sweet Memories, Feelings and a Sentimental Summary of my Summer in Italy…

Allora, I feel like I should write a blogpost about my adventures in Italy because I’ve been back a while now and time is ticking away. The moment is passing. The trip is becoming old news and something that has been and gone, fading from view in the rear view mirror. If I don’t type up some stuff soon then surely soon will be too late, right?

Even so, I’m feeling ambivalent about the idea of blogging. I could write a blogpost about my travels, but what’s the reason for doing it? Is it because I feel obliged to – that I have to account for myself or file a report because if I don’t I’m being oddly evasive or acting as it’s like it didn’t happen?

I’m also wary because I know that some people out there are interested but I also know that others don’t care much at all, and that’s fine. People – people like me and probably you – put a lot of stuff out into the aether and upload things into cyberspace but cyberspace is vast and indifferent, and that’s also okay and understandable. People have busy lives and there’s just too much going on in real life and on the internet to engage with everything. If I share something on the web and it doesn’t register or cause a ripple, hey, never mind. I’m not very precious and create stuff, first and foremost, because I love creating things. “Do what you love and if other people like it as well then – hey! – that’s a brilliant bonus!” is my kind of general mindset and a terrible working title for the creative self-help guidebook that I’m never going to write. “‘Tis better to share and find that others aren’t interested than to never share at all” is a similar summary of the way I tend to see things, though that line is going to need some editing if it’s ever going to make it into a poetry book or onto a teatowel…

Anyhow, in spite of that it’s not pleasant feeling like – and knowing that – you’re pouring out your heart and soul out in public spaces for no purpose. If I were to write a blogpost on my recent trip, I know that I would be pouring my heart and soul out because Italy has given me feelings. So, so many feelings. This trip meant a lot to me and I don’t want to wrench out all those feelings and beautiful memories and do them a disservice by knocking out a badly-written blog treatment that folk quickly skim over. I don’t think I can adequately encapsulate what was possibly the best six weeks of my life so far in a few thousand words accompanied by context-free photos. There are so many details, moments and intangible elements – way too many to try and tie up neatly and definitively in a post.

I wouldn’t know where to begin and I wouldn’t know how to shape it to do myself and my experiences justice. I also fear – and this is one of my major worries as a writer who says things on the internet – that I’ll come across as smug or insincere (and that is never my intention). I also don’t want to be insufferable and irritate others by banging on about how I had the most awesomest of amazing times. I did, and I feel I can better represent that in person on in more personal sections of the internet (namely, via emails or among friends on Facebook). These black and white bits of text on a screen can’t carry the full, authentic force of emotion and convey the deep truth of what I’m trying to express either. I’m a gushy sentimental soul and there’s a danger that cold pixels will distort or dilute the genuine passion and feeling, making me seem trite and mawkish.

Altogether, I’m not satisfied that a blogpost chronicle of my six week trip around Italy is going to cut it so I’m not going to write one. I can’t find the words and effectively articulate my feelings about the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve had the privilege to spend time with and all that they have all meant to me. Italy is a very special country for me and I’ll treasure this particular trip especially for the rest of my days. All I can do to express that is shut up and scribble down some doodlings on a piece of paper in a sort of reminiscence mindmap to try and give a visual picture of my happy memories.

Basta. I will finish and move on by saying thank you to everyone and everything that was a part of my Italian experience. The best time of my life… 😀

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My travels in Italia, a scribbly reminiscence mindmap…

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Travelling Back Through Time to the Temple of Doom…

“Okey dokey, Dr. Jones! Hold on to your potatoes!” And your hat. Oh, and your heart as well. You wouldn’t like it if someone else got a hold of it…

Let’s roll, ideally in a runaway mine cart. 30 years ago this week, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom hit movie theatres. To commemorate this milestone anniversary, Paul Bullock – the man behind the brilliant From Director Steven Spielberg archive website – is hosting Temple of Doom week. He put out a call for thoughts on the movie and, because I love it and got caught up in sweet nostalgia just recalling the second Indy film, I duly responded with an enthusiastic email.

Paul has, very kindly, taken those transcribed thoughts and uploaded them on to the blog as part of the celebration. You can read my reflections by heading over to the site and I hope people enjoy them or, perhaps, are moved to re-appraise Temple of Doom. I’m very happy to have been able to make a small contribution to an excellent blog that I recommend to all cinema aficionados. Paul’s devotion is amazing and I’m in awe of the hard-work he continues to put into building and curating his free online archive of all-things Spielberg-related.

Roll on, and here’s to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Oh, and here’s also to Dr Jones holding on to his potato…

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"Okey dokey Dr. Jones! Hold on to your potatoes!"

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A Long Time Ago in a VHS Player Far, Far Away…

May the Fourth be with you! It’s Star Wars Day! I love Star Wars! We love Star Wars! Let’s all dance like the happy Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi and celebrate the glorious saga!

I believe we should do this because Star Wars is a bit special and as a fan I think it’s important to take a moment to cherish the precious pop culture phenomenon that’s touched us all, whether we personally wanted it to or not. I will be doing this by listening to John Williams’ scores and by flagrantly dropping quotes and references into as many conversations as possible (this is easy if most of your conversations are with yourself). I will also snatch a few moments to watch some classic movie scenes and may also consider upping the ante on my inactive ‘I Am Han Solo’ campaign.

Swept up in the excitement I thought I might head out today for a frenzied shopping spree and pick up a load of action figures or some Star Wars Lego but I’m best off keeping a tight hold of my few credits and remembering that a Jedi does not value possessions. Still I do have some Star Wars paraphernalia from my childhood knocking around and today is the day for looking at it with a little extra love in my eye. It’s the day for digging it out of cupboards, holding it in a suffocatingly tight grip to then exclaim in your Vader voice “I have you now!

Here’s what I have: triumphant orchestral blast to salute something from a long time ago…

Star Wars! Interactive video board gaming! Destroying the evil Galactic Empire with plastic pieces and cardboard thermal detonator cards!

Star Wars! Interactive video board gaming! Destroying the evil Galactic Empire with plastic pieces and cardboard thermal detonator cards!

Manufactured in 1995, it’s Star Wars: The Interactive Board Game.  It’s here in my hands and I’m desperate to play it with my Rebel comrades for some timely competitive fun on May 4th. Alas, I can’t because I don’t have a VHS player. Star Wars may be eternal, but technology marches on and out-of-date devices die out. Cue sad Wookiee howling or, if you can stand the prequels (and you should stand them and enjoy them), press that Anakin Skywalker Wail button.

Nevertheless, my memories don’t die but linger on and talk to me in moments of cold despair (they’re just like Ben Kenobi appearing to Luke when he’s freezing on Hoth after his escape from captivity beneath the claws of the Wampa). I remember fun sessions in front of the gameboard and TV, listening the instructions of Darth Vader on the screen before me. I remember trying to thwart his villainous plan to destroy the Rebel base on D’rinba IV by depositing bomb cards around his Death Star recreation. Look at those figurines and the nice artwork that graces the playing area!

... nice game with nice details..

… I don’t know what they’ll achieve by putting an R2 unit in the Detention Block…

At a particular point in the game Lord Vader would point at players and say something along the lines of “You! You now taking your turn! I have you now! You will now serve me and exchange your playing piece for the Stormtrooper figure!” And so, the Power of the Dark Side claimed a helpless innocent and they were compelled to bow down and serve the Sith Master. As a child this blatant undermining of any notion of freewill in a boardgame shocked me to the core. Still, the Rebels tended to get it together and triumph over Evil by the time the 60 minutes were up. The Force was strong with them… and they had the remote control to pause if the clock was working against them.

All in all, it was great fun and I’d be forcing it on my family tonight for May the Fourth celebrations if I had the right kit. I don’t so I’m just going to sit and look at it while listening to the Cantina Band tune. It’s also highly likely that I’ll have done a whole load of other saga-related stuff to pay tribute to the space opera that raised me. I urge you to do the same. May the Fourth be with you and May the Force be with you, always…

... and now I'm all choked up...

… and now I’m all choked up…