Thursday, 23 October 2014

Oi, fat bloke

I was reading my friend Kat's blog post called Fat and Unapologetic earlier and to my shame, while feeling sympathy for her situation, instead of expressing said sympathy in the comments I did my usual monomaniacal thing and wrote a big piece all about me me me. Sorry about that Kat. Anyway, in case you haven't read Kat's post (even now that I've linked to it), I thought I'd take my monologue and expand it into something more awesome and slightly less unsuitable-as-a-comment-on-someone-else's-blog.

It’s funny. I've been trying to lose weight for quite a long time now. Since I'm tall, I hide it quite well but I've been anything up to 6 stone overweight over the last few years. That’s about the combined weight of two of my kids. Or both my legs or something. In practical terms I often feel heavy and lethargic, have the turning circle of a bus and sweat. I sweat a lot.

Well before Brad Pitt strolled on to the screen in Thelma & Louise with his well oiled six pack, men have had as unrealistic body images foisted on them as women have. Adverts only have the two extremes of portraying men- the rippling Adonis or the bumbling halfwitted moron who can't be trusted to chose a brand of kitchen cleaner. There really isn't anything in between and as a bloke the only Ripple I've ever had has been chocolate and individually wrapped.

If I were to be completely honest, I would say that deep down I want to be thin and fit in with everyone else who is thin and therefore successful (or at the worst thin and unsuccessful, which is better than fat and okayish) and I feel a bit of a failure for not doing so.

I want to be able to play with the kids, get the endorphins rush from exercise, enjoy playing 5 a side on a Wednesday night without the sad knowledge I’ll get lumped in goal as the fat kid- I'm 40 next year for goodness sake. Does the phrase normal active life sound sad because that’s sort of what I lust after? I worry that my kids will be fat kids because they've got a fat parent. In fact the boy already has an appetite that matches the wife’s and I know I can’t control my weight through diet, it just doesn't work and I have to do it through the simple expedient of burning more calories than I take in. Which is tricky at the best of times. I've had a series of colds recently that have left me feeling drained and I've ready put over half a stone back on which is so utterly depressing I couldn't begin to describe it.

None of which of course makes anybody else’s opinion and rudeness anything other than, well, rude. I used to suck my thumb when I was little which resulted in me having a overbite that druids could shelter under* by the time I was 7. I used to get random people shouting abuse at me in the street about it and I can still feel the hot tears of shame from that.

Petty small minded mean people make fun of people who are different and unfortunately that is one of societies constants isn't it? The problem is, food, especially food that's predictably bad for you, tastes really nice. What's the point of eating cardboard when you can have a nice fry up?

*Red Dwarf quote, bonus points if you spotted that one

Never mind the furniture

The children in our house only have a passing understanding of the concept of a sofa. What we see as something to sit on, they see as something to jump on, push off of, hide behind (or in). It's getting inherently more dangerous as the kids get older too, we have one sofa in the sitting room that isn't up against a wall and this now tilts alarming up on two legs when a child hurls themselves on to the sofa. They haven't even quite got the hang of sitting on a sofa either; pressing themselves right up tight against any available adult, despite the surfeit of seating space available. I'm often chased around the sofas as I move places to ensure I have some elbow room.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

5 million and counting

The page counter to the right recently slipped over 5m. That's five million page views for this little blog and I'd like to thank everyone who's read the odd post or even those who subscribe to the RSS feed. I did a post analysing the whats wheres and so on when I hit 3 million a while ago. Nothings really changed in terms of that sort of stuff, so if you want to see a bit of the statistical side of things, you can have a look here.

As a thank you, I'd like to gift you with the following photo:

You can use your own lurid imagination to ponder on exactly how far down the nakedness goes and how exactly I'm holding the camera.

Thank you all!

Gaming, gaming, gaming, and a bit more gaming

Our 7 year old is a LEGO fanatic. He is also a Minecraft addict. The two in my mind are intrinsically linked because although I've not really played Minecraft myself, as far as I can see it's sort of a LEGO City building kit on computer/tablets/console. Some of the worlds he's built are astonishingly complex and go on forever and ever, or at least it seems that way when I'm having a guided tour of them at any rate. Not that these worlds are very detailed and well thought our mind you. I think the fiver I spent on Minecraft Pocket Edition on Android was possibly the best five pounds I've ever spent in terms of value for money (although the money I spent on Football Manager 2013, also on Android, gives it a close run for it's money as I head into the 2030 season with a team almost entirely made up of players called Costa).

Over the last year or so as he's got a bit older and developed the hand to eye coordination for video gaming, he's developed a proper interest in games. Fortunately the world of gaming is quite different to when I was little. When I was his age a chap called Sir Clive Sinclair decided it would be a jolly good idea to unleash the ZX Spectrum on the world. The machine had a membrane keyboard that felt like the cold dead skin of a corpse and had a meagre 16k of memory that could be filled by loading stuff up from a tape cassette. To put this into perspective, a MS Word file with 500 words of unformatted text is about the same size as a Spectrum game. To get round this relatively minuscule amount of storage, Spectrum games were usually short but rock hard. Jumps had to be pixel perfect or you'd die. Baddies had to be avoided or you'd die. Sometimes you'd just die because the game was unfair. This made the 7 year old me quite sad at times. Today though with some games running to 50GB (or roughly 3.3m times larger than a Spectrum game), games can afford to be easy but long. If they're too hard, they'll alienate their audience after all. With a lot of the games the boy plays, he gets bored of the game before he gets stuck on it and even if he gets stuck, I'm usually on hand to help anyway.

The vast majority of the games he likes to play are Nintendo based, not because their consoles (Wii U and 3DS/2DS) have the monopoly when it comes to family friendly games- we have Skylanders, LEGO Harry Potter and a load of others on the Xbox 360 for example- but with the big chunky gamepad and kid friendly home screen, the Wii U and it's games definitely have a place in the heart of the boy.

A lot of people look to limit "screen time" as though it's all the same; TV, tablet, consoles, and so on. I think on it a little differently because I see gaming as an active experience that builds such skills as coordination, problem solving, patience and concentration. At it's best some TV can cover a few of those attributes but all to often it's simply switched on as something to veg out in front of and isn't very positive to my mind.

This Christmas is the first Christmas where any of the kids have asked for a video game on their Christmas list. The boy has asked for Super Smash Bros and Luigi's Mansion 2 on the 3DS. Super Smash Bros is a 12 certificate for reasons I'm not entirely sure about- from playing it fairly extensively at a couple of Nintendo events it appears to be a comic book beat 'em up with about as much root in the real world as an episode of Power Rangers. I shall have to ponder the suitability on that but Luigi's Mansion 2 looks and plays brilliantly...

I have a sneaking suspicion that Fifi will be following in the footsteps of her older brother and there is no doubt in my mind that Ned will want to be a serious gamer sooner rather than later too. I fear for poor old wifey's sanity when they're all at it, bickering over who gets to play what when...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination at the British Library, with Kids!!!

On our way back from a rather nice trip to play a lot of new Nintendo 3DS games at an event put on by Nintendo, we decided to pop into the British Library and see their latest exhibition.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs until mid January and features a couple of hundred items linked into the Gothic movement. The exhibition is ticketed but children are free and wifey got in free courtesy of her Museum Association membership. It cost me a tenner.

Before we went in, we did ask at the ticket desk whether the exhibition was suitable for children. We we told their was nothing too gory or scary and with perhaps the exception of the poster for Hellraiser and a clip from a 70's zombie movie, I'd go along with that. None of our kids, aged from 2 through to 7 had any nightmares last night as a result of seeing it at any rate.

The exhibition runs chronologically, starting with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto from the 1760's, up to the Twilight novels. Obviously as the exhibition is at the British Library, there is a heavy focus on the literary aspect of the Gothic tradition but there are also several film clips, and quite a section on film posters. In terms of film clips, there is something from Bride of Frankenstein, The Wicker-man, and a couple of others. Nothing too graphic though...

It was interesting to see the number of vampire novels that were written before Dracula, particularly Varney the Vampire. In fact there were several Gothic classics that I now want to dig out. Interestingly a lot of what we now consider Gothic novels were actually marketed as romantic encounters at the time.

There are tons of fascinating items on display, ranging from Penny Dreadful covers with Springheeled Jack (dating from 1904 and looking very much like an inspiration for Batman), to my personal favourite, a letter written to the police by Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately there is an understandable ban on photography given the delicacy of some of the paper based object. Further though, one of two of the items are so dimly displayed you can't actually see them. In these instances it would have perhaps been better to have had a reproduction alongside that visitors could actually see.

It's a wonderful exhibition though, not suffering from the problem that a lot of the museum "blockbusters" have; a certain degree of dumbing down, and I shall probably be making a return visit before it shuts.

In terms of suitability for kids, there is relatively little to scare them excessively aside from what I've previously mentioned. There are large parts of the exhibition that probably won't engage them though. Specifically a lot of the historic books, accompanied by quite densely packed text panels. However a lot of the objects are wonderful in their ghoulishness, like the skeleton clock, the Were-Rabbit from Wallace & Gromit Curse of the Were-Rabbit or the Alexander McQueen dress. Some of the illustrations from early editions of some of the Gothic classics were really interesting too, showing the evolution of Frankenstein's Monster into the flat headed iconic figure we all know from the 1930's Universal movie. The exhibition space at the British Library is well used but it can bottle neck at the entrance, so it might be best to skip past that and see it again before exiting (there is timed entry so it can be busy on the hour). Our kids had fun picking their favourite objects and spotting the pictures from the free guide leaflet. Ned was particularly pleased he found the Yellow Book. The stairs (a small flight at the beginning and a much larger flight at the end) make it unsuitable for pushchairs but you can chain those up in the locker room (with your personal belongings in a locker) if you want to walk around carrying a toddler.

I will leave you with the wonderfully moody trailer for the exhibition, which is a work of art in itself:

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