All the leaves are brown…

Autumn has finally arrived. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s always been my favourite season. I like the colours, burnt oranges and browns, and I like the temperature, not too hot, but not yet too cold either. I quite like a bit of rain, too, so long as I’m inside listening to the sound of it on the windows. I don’t even mind the nights starting to draw in. I’ve always like being able to stop off for a coffee in the evening while it’s dark and the shops are still open.

One of the oddest things that comes with autumn, for me at least, is a renewed level of creativity. It’s almost completely counterintuitive to me. I suffer from SAD (Season Affective Disorder), which makes me more depressed as we head into winter, yet I always get a great outpouring of ideas along with it. When I’m depressed I normally lose all motivation and have been known to lose the ability to write anything meaningful for months, but when I get it as autumn rolls around, I get a burst of energy alongside it.

So I now have a rush of ideas raging like a torrent in my brain, all trying to make their way out onto the page, along with what I know is going to be a finite amount of energy to realise them with. It can be frustrating, knowing that I may not be able to get everything out before all motivation leaves me. I have half-finished stories and fragments cluttering my hard drive already, alongside discarded notes and story titles without a story to go with them. But in amongst all of that, I’ll get a few completed stories, or usable outlines at least, which makes it all worth it.

I never know how long it’s going to last for. Sometimes it’s only for a week or two. Some years the energy doesn’t go away, and I’ll keep going until whenever the next big crash comes along. I never know when that’s going to be, so I just keep going, and hope that I can finish as much as possible while there are still a few leaves on the trees.

Working on my TV Tan

If there’s one advantage to being a layabout, it’s being able to catch up on my TV viewing. I’m usually terrible at watching TV series, forgetting to watch several episodes before giving up and doing something else. Fortunately, we now live in the age of the Box Set, which means I’m no longer beholden to watching TV at set times. It’s made one hell of a difference. Now I can spend entire days watching an entire series, pausing only to top up my tea levels.

While I’ve watched a lot of stuff, I’ve been particularly impressed with the quality of the superhero shows that have sprung up. Both Flash and Arrow are strong, and Daredevil has made up for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D being a little disappointing. With more to come, either from the Marvel Netflix deal or the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, it’s starting to feel like we’re living in the golden age of the superhero, what with the genre’s continued dominance at the box office and the diversification of superhero comics.

The most surprising thing to me is that pretty much all of the superhero shows are of characters that I’ve never really had much interest in. While I’m certainly aware of them, and more than capable of getting the nerdier references, such as the ‘Jordan’ patch in the Coast City flashback in a recent episode of Arrow, I’ve never found them compelling. Yet somehow the TV versions have managed to draw me in.

It may simply be that I find it nice interacting with superheroes in a way that isn’t burdened with fifty-odd years of continuity. It could be that the characters have been distilled down to their core concepts and seem fresh again. It could be that the episodic format is closer to the traditional comic stories than the films. I don’t know. I do know that I’m enjoying having a different medium to enjoy superheroes in. I love reading superhero comics, but it’s nice to see a different take on old concepts.

A Random Miscellany Of Things That Are Pleasing 07/03/15

I skipped the pseudo-debates last night in favour of Brooklyn Nine Nine, which is the only program outside of Masterchef that I seem to be able to remember to watch on a regular basis. I only really started watching it as my other half is a huge fan, but I’ve come to love it. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it’s well executed and well cast. It’s consistently good, which is enough for me.

I also watched the first episode of Inside No 9, the new series from Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. As I understand it, each week there’ll be a different story using a different setting within the constraints of the title. This week it was set in carriage nine of a sleeper train, and worked incredibly well given the limited space. It has the black comedy that I’ve come to expect from them, and has a nice twist ending. It’s also well cast and well scripted, which means that I’ll definitely be back for the rest of the series.

Away from TV, I’ve been surprised by how excited I’ve been about some of the Secret Wars reveals. I doubt I’d be interested in a Spider-Island series, despite enjoying the original event, but the promise of new Spider-Girl material has me intrigued, particularly since Tom Defalco is returning to write it. Spider-Girl was a great series, and it’ll be nice to revisit it.

Even more surprising was the reveal that Zero Cochrane, the Ghost Rider of 2099 will be in the Ghost Racers series. As a cyberpunk obsessed teenager I was a massive fan of the original series, and, again, it’ll be nice to revisit it. Sadly it doesn’t seem to have to led to a TPB of the original series, but I can dream.

I think what strikes me about the Secret Wars projects is how much fun the creative teams seem to be having. There are a lot of concepts and settings being revisited which I’d want to read even if I wasn’t interested in the main series. As it is, I can see myself picking up the inevitable omnibus editions of the whole event.

Finally, I’ll most likely be missing the football tonight, but I’m not too upset about it. I’ve gone off of England internationals, and can’t see anything other than a win against Lithuania, even if it ends up as a ground-out one-nil disappointment. The qualifying group being so easy this time around has taken the drama out of it, especially with the change to the top two teams qualifying. In that light, it’s quite nice to see the FA actually arranging some difficult friendlies. I’m actually more interested in the match against Italy on Tuesday, which I predict will end in a draw. My predictions are always wrong, though, so I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that.

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

One of the more interesting narratives in an otherwise quite dull election is the rise of the SNP. While they’ve enjoyed popularity in elections for the Scottish Parliament in the past, they’ve never made a huge impact when it comes to the general election, until now, that is. Polling is consistently giving them anywhere from 30-50 seats, which would make them the third largest party in Westminster.

This isn’t going over well with either Labour or the Conservatives. Labour face losing enough seats to cost them the election, and are scrambling to create a ‘vote SNP get the Tories’ narrative. Meanwhile the Conservatives are facing the prospect of winning the most seats but being kept out of power by a third party, and are busy trying to create the opposite narrative.

The Conservative argument has been that the SNP blocking a Conservative government would go against the democratic will of the people. While the rhetoric doesn’t hold true, as the SNP would be elected by the same system as the other parties, giving them just as much legitimacy, it does ask a few questions about our electoral system.

The SNP are polling, on a UK level, about 8% of the overall vote. That’s less than both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, yet they would gain more MPs than both parties combined. It’s down to the concentration of the SNP vote in Scotland, while the other parties have their support spread widely. It’s not something that the Westminster system is set up to deal with.

The Westminster system is designed to return strong, single part governments. Coalitions are rare, and that’s in part due to the first past the post system, which favours the existing parties. Even the rise of the Liberal Democrats didn’t have much of an effect until 2010, and the hung parliament then could just as easily be ascribed to disillusionment with politics in general.

The reason for the dominance of the two main parties is the assumption that they appeal to the nation as a whole, representing the peoples of the whole of Britain. The system isn’t set up to deal with strong regional parties, and instead expects that regional issues will be dealt with by the main parties.

That was until the creation of the Scottish Parliament, which created an opportunity for the SNP to insert itself into the political narrative in a way that it hadn’t been able to before. The SNP have been in a position to demonstrate that they can govern, and to be able to capitalise on disillusionment with Westminster politics to create a regional power block, which, due to the first past the post system, will give them disproportionate representation at Westminster, at least compared to their share of the national vote.

Regional blocks are more common in federal systems, which tend to use proportional representation in in their elections. This creates coalitions that are representative of the country’s constituent parts. Due to the uneven nature of devolution within the UK, along with the first past the post system, we’re not set up to deal with them as efficiently.

This could have an interesting effect. There’s a real possibility that we could see an increased call for electoral reform in the wake of this election, possibly even calls for federalism. While the notion was seemingly dealt with by the AV vote near the start of the current parliament, there could be an appetite to resurrect it, and even to push through other issues like reform of the House of Lords. Regional assemblies look like they may be back on the agenda, and the need for debate is becoming more and more apparent.

The lasting legacy of this election is unlikely to be a strong government, or even a memorable election. It is an opportunity, however, to highlight the increasingly obvious flaws in our electoral system and make the argument for change. The rise of the SNP actually has the potential to make Britain stronger and more representative, rather than breaking it up, if we’re willing to have the debate that is becoming increasingly necessary.

The Truth Is Somewhere

Following on from Twin Peaks getting a new series (or maybe not, depending on what’s going on behind the scenes at the moment), we’re getting another ’90s revival, this time in the form of the X-Files. Fox have commissioned a six episode series, which will star both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. I’ve always been a massive X-Files fan, so I should be over the moon.

In reality, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. The X-Files was the first TV program that I followed from the beginning, and the first that I thought of as ‘mine’. I inherited things like Star Trek, but this was something that I could make my own, and I did exactly that. I bought the VHS tapes, bought the novels, and even a very bad t-shirt. I was obsessed with it in the way that only teenagers can be.

Despite that, I’d probably be amongst the first to admit that it had problems. While the first two seasons were excellent, it started getting caught up in the mythology of the series a bit too much, and by the time the first film rolled around the alien conspiracy storyline was starting to dominate, which was unfortunate since it always seemed unlikely that there’d be a decent pay off for it. Nevertheless, it kept the quality up for a few more seasons before going into terminal decline.

The X-Files is, for me, the poster child for a series that overstayed its welcome. The writing was on the wall once Duchovny left, but it soldiered on for a while longer with a new cast, before wrapping itself up with one last outing for Mulder and Scully which attempted to bring some kind of resolution to the series. By the time it finally went off air, I was almost relieved to see it go.

Bringing the series back does give it an opportunity to make up for what was a lacklustre resolution in the final episode, and it does look like we’ll be getting some of the original series writers along with Duchovny and Anderson, which should help.  Even with that, it’s going still going to have a hard time making itself relevant.

The X-files was a product of its time. The heyday of alien invasion conspiracies has been and gone, and we have more grounded conspiracies theories involving false flags and paedophile rings these days. In order to make itself relevant to a modern audience, it will either  need to tap into that or ignore the conspiracy angle completely. I’d be happy with six ‘monster of the week’ episodes, but I have a horrible feeling that it’s going to be alien-centric.

I’m hopeful that we’ll get something that reminds me why I loved the X-Files. If not, well, I’m sure that there’s some kind of shadowy power that I can blame. I wonder where I put that UFO poster…

In The Summertime…

It hasn’t rained for the past four days. We’ve had sunshine too, and if you stand in the right place it actually feels warm. I’ve found my sunglasses and I’m ready for the inevitable onslaught of hay fever, which has already been playing at the edge of my sinuses. Spring has arrived, and summer won’t be far behind.

I can tell summer’s not far off because my music tastes are shifting. During the winter I tend to be caught listening to Type O Negative, before disappearing into a diet of black metal. If it snows, I’ll almost certainly want to listen to Battles In The North or Between Two Worlds. Atmospheric black metal creeps into my head and links itself to the cold and dark.

As the days start to stretch out and the sun starts to make itself known again I turn more towards what I think of summer music. The first manifestation is normally in the form of Aerosmith. I have Get A Grip  on at the moment, and there’s something about it that screams ‘summertime’ at me. If modern Aerosmith isn’t to your taste, then I challenge you to listen to Sweet Emotion and not want to drive around in a convertible.

It’s just as much of a herald of the summer as the sun and hay fever, for me at least. In the next month or so I’ll be breaking out the likes of Iron Maiden and Rancid, before heading off on a folk metal tangent. It’s festival music, and that’s what I associate summer with. Summer is the time to go and sit in a field and get slowly drunk while listening to great music.

I’ve been going to festivals since 1998. I’ve rarely had a summer holiday in that time, but I’ve spent a great many weekends in parts of the country that I wouldn’t even know existed otherwise, in good weather and bad. I’ve been to Pontins and seen the truly odd sight of Paradise Lost headlining in a holiday camp. Festivals are one of the better things in life.

I hate hot weather, I suffer from hay fever and like to wear black a lot. I’m not built for summer. I’d often be happier somewhere cold, but I look forward to summer every year. Just take me to a field, stick a beer in my hand and point me towards some kind of German thrash band and I’ll be happy as anything. I’d best check the tent is still in one piece.

Mancave Maintainance

I took the weekend off, from a blogging perspective anyway, so that I could attempt to bring order to the mancave. It doubles up as the spare room, and, as we have people visiting next week, we need it to appear at least vaguely organised. Which means putting things back on shelves and tidying my Godzillas up after myself. Possibly even dusting, if I get carried away.

It’s odd. Despite having a collector mentality, I’d never really thought about having a mancave until we were looking to move last year and I realised that we might have a usable spare room. It occurred to me that I could finally have somewhere to put all of my stuff, rather than having it take over the entire house, as it had been doing for several years.

I justified the mancave with the simple rule that all of my robots, toys and comics would take up residence in it, and not spread throughout the rest of the house, as they had been doing. I’ve been quite successful so far, with only a couple of Transformers sitting in the living room at the moment. They’re waiting for a space in one of the Detolfs, and will be making the move soon. Otherwise, the mancave is now full of the fruits of a lifetime of excessive nerdery.

It’s nice to have everything in one place, but as a result I’ve come to realise just how much stuff I have. There are another three boxes of Transformers that I simply haven’t got space for at all, despite filling three Detolfs already. I’ve filled the bookcases with graphic novels, and space still looks like it’ll be a problem before long. The games shelf overflowed almost immediately, and all this is without addressing the issue of the starship collection slowly taking over one side of the room.

It makes for a very full room that’s hard to dust, one that lends itself to things being left laying around. That wouldn’t normally bother me too much, since I’ve always been a fan of organised chaos and clutter, but it’s the fact that it has to double up as a spare room the makes it awkward. If I don’t keep it tidy it’s a bit of a nightmare to get it ready for people visiting.

I say that it’s a nightmare for me, but I can only imagine what it’s like for people who stay in the mancave. It’s a small room, and the sofa bed is overlooked by robots, action figures and at least one Mr Potato Head (Optimus Prime version, of course). It’s bordered on three sides by hundreds of graphic novels. For some people reading this, it probably sounds like a great place to stay. For others, it’s probably more than a little intimidating, not least because a lot of the toys look like they’ll break if you look at them funny, and sleeping with a small army of robots watching you may be a bit off-putting.

Still, it’s a nice thing to have, even if it is more work than I thought it would be. I can finally find all of my comics again, including some that I hadn’t seen in years. I’ve found forgotten toys that lurked at the bottom of unpacked boxes, and I’ve almost reached the point where I’ll be able to sell off (or re-home, as I like to think of it) my excess Transformers. My years of collecting have finally reached an end product, and its a great thing.

I just wish I didn’t have to dust it all.

A Random Miscellany Of Things That Are Pleasing

There was an eclipse this morning. Not a total eclipse, but enough of one to get everyone excited, me included. I duly stood outside of my house with a rudimentary pinhole thingy to watch it with, and, while it wasn’t as spectacular as the one back in 1999, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Even better, thanks to the ubiquity of cameraphones I can now force my poor photography on people. This is the best I managed, with clouds getting in the way of the actual eclipse, although you can see it in miniature below the sun.

I’ve been fascinated with space since i was a child, which is probably the fault of Star Trek. The only thing to come close to that was dinosaurs, which made the episode of Voyager with the space-dinosaurs in it possibly the greatest thing ever to happen. I distinctly remember reading my dinosaur books to death, and one of the greatest obsessions that I had was with the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, which were Victorian and anatomically incorrect. I’ve been to see them quite a few times, and used to be able to see Megatherium from the train on my way to work, something which brightened many a morning commute.

This would probably explain my delight at discovering Antediluvian Miniatures, who are making miniatures of said dinosaurs. Timed perfectly for for my rediscovery of tabletop gaming, I can’t wait unitl they get around to doing Iguanadon. I love the massively incorrect version more that the actual ‘proper’ version, with all of it’s scientific accuracy. Even if you’re not into gaming or model dinosaurs, you have to appreciate a company that has a dinosaur with a monocle as its Facebook avatar.

Away from anatomically incorrect dinosaurs, I was quite pleased to see Fabian Nicieza being announced as the writer of the upcoming Secret Wars: Age Of Apocalypse mini-series. He was the writer of X-Men when I first started reading American comics, and his Gambit series is, to my mind at least, one of the great under-rated superhero series of the ’90s. The original story is, despite its flaws, one of the great crossover events, and I’m pleased to see one of the original creators revisiting it. I actually re-read the whole thing at Christmas, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This could be one of the highlights of the whole Secret Wars event.

Finally, my random memory of the week is Battle Cards, a short lived CCG from Steve Jackson. I have no idea what made me think of them, but they were amongst the more bizarre things that I collected. They were a card game that had scratch panels, which you scratched off to win battles with others. There were quests to complete, and cards could be collected for their ‘gold’ value and exchanged for rarer cards. They were an interesting idea, but the scratch card aspect made them difficult to reuse, which is probably why they fell out of my memory until yesterday. The setting and art could make for a fun mobile game though.

I’m off to attempt to bring order to the mancave. In reality, I’m going to sit and play with my NECA Godzillas and procrastinate instead of writing the webcomic thing that it’s a bit too early to talk about yet.

Let’s Talk About Bullying

I want to talk about bullying. It’s partly because of the Chris Sims/Valerie D’Orazio revelations from yesterday, which has acted as a prompt to make me finally try and get my thoughts out about it. We don’t talk about bullying enough, and bullying ruins lives. I know, because I’ve suffered from it quite extensively.

‘Bullying’ is almost too friendly a term for it, one that conjures up memories of childhood days and images of the school bully who will one day get his comeuppance. Bullying is, in it’s ultimate form, a campaign of of harassment and intimidation, often involving violence or threats of violence, directed by one or more person at an individual. It’s a horrible, nasty thing that needs to be recognised as such.

It’s one of those things that we push to one side and awkwardly tip-toe around. It’s something that we know happens in schools, but we tell ourselves that it’s just kids and that they’ll grow out of it. We know that it happens in workplaces, we know that it happens increasingly online, and we shrug our shoulders and ask what can we do? It’s endemic to our society.

Bullying has long lasting effects. For me, I experienced the after effects of being bullied at school, and on occasion in the workplace, for years, even decades, afterwards. I found it impossible to trust people, even those closest to me. I created a persona that wouldn’t allow me to get too close to people precisely so that there’s no ammunition to be used against me. I still react incredibly badly to criticism, fearing on some level that I’m going to be bullied again, and I’ve actively sabotaged myself so that I won’t get noticed.

There are also the memories. The nightmares. I still have them to this day, and I’m thirty-six. Thirty-six. There’s no set trigger for the memories, but I’ll relive the worst moments in vivid detail and actually feel like I’m there again, feeling helpless and afraid. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the night terrified, afraid to go back to sleep, knowing that it’s waiting for me again. I’m a lot better now, but it’s something that’s haunted my life, hanging over me and not letting me move on.

The after effects of being bullied have had a profound effect on me. I’ve struggled to rebuild my trust in people, and I still find myself feeling like I exist on the edge of groups, not really believing that people actually like me. I’ve had issues with depression, body-image issues and more besides. I keep going and hope that one day it’ll all be left behind me, and, like most people that have been a victim of bullying, I’ve kept quiet about it, fearing that I’ll have to go through it all again if I speak out about it.

The thing is, that’s what’s stopping anything being done about it. Those of us who have suffered very rarely speak out, either at the time or after the fact. It’s become such a part of our culture that I, and I suspect many others, don’t really believe that much will be done about it. You can see people who have made a career out of bullying people being lauded as ‘strong personalities’, while those of us who have suffered keep our heads down and hide. We remain victims, seeing our tormentors prosper.

Bullying is part of our culture. It’s not going to change until we accept that and try to address the problem. We need to create an environment where people can come forward with their experiences without fear. We need to listen to people and realise the massive impact that this has on people’s lives. We need to make people who have been a bully realise exactly how much harm they’ve done, and we also need to give them the space to apologise and try to do better.

Bullying won’t go away overnight. It’s far, far too pervasive. We can start talking about it, though. We can try to do better.

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