Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A Road Trip in Brains: Drabble

Did you know that mayonnaise is 5% milk?

Did you know that everyone has a unique tongueprint, as they do with fingerprints?

Did you know that the northern leopard frog swallows its prey using its eyes? (It uses them to help push food down its throat by retracting them into its head).

Did you know that Vladimir Nabokov nearly invented the smiley?

Did you know that there are 274 different types of dust?

Did you know that bacteria lives in hairspray and in 2008 a new one was discovered?

Did you know that there are around 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body? (If you took them all out and laid them end to end, they’d stretch around the world more than twice).

Did you know that there are more stars in space than there are grains of sand on every beach in the world? 

As the road stretched out ahead. Deep into the peat moss mire and moors of Connemara, twenty seven brains on a bus ramble down their own lanes.

Some of it was true. Some of it was not. Mostly though, the thoughts were much of nothing. Though that's just a limitation of the English language. Nothing is impossible to quantify. So what is all of this. Really?

I'm bored. When are we going to arrive. Is this even worth it? I'm hot. I can't sleep. I'm tired. This bus is rocky. Look a sheep! Those mountains are gorgeous. I have so much work to do. This is the middle of nowhere. I wonder what Jeremy is doing? Yellow car! What am I going to do tomorrow? I want a chocolate muffin. Should I have a muffin? This is a holiday. Nine-hundred and ninety-nine stars in the sky, the sun is burning. What do I have to do when I get back? Pretty stream. Where are my sunglasses? It's so hot.

On wanders the brains of the twenty seven passengers.

The brain belonging to the wire rimmed glasses and bohemian blue shirt chatters a Connemara stream's worth of gossip about the next door neighbours to the brain of the brown messy bun and sensible white shoes. They've been friends for thirty years.

Behind the two middle-aged brains sits the brain of the textbook version of freshmeat business. A twenty-something in a sharp jacket and jeans who holds the hand of a svelte model with a camera bigger than a swan's neck. Together they are caught in a duet of money and expectations of love.

Over to the left is the brain of a bouncy castle. Well, not literally, but the way the mind leaps from sheep to cloud to the curiousity of Connemara sunshine versus the mystery of mist blown moorlands, one wouldn't be wrong to deduce so.

The brain at the front of the bus is full of burden. Burden at bearing patience at the long journey ahead of which, despite the declared time of two hours before the bus began trekking, cannot see an end. And now the brain feels accute hunger and needs the toilet quite badly.

Which brain is the best? The most normal? The wisest? The smartest? But who are we to give definition? Brains are brains. Presently there is a total thirty-nine living in yellowed jars at the Victorian pathology museum of St Barthomew's hospital in London.

And that means, as far as anyone knows, we are all normal here.

Brains are brains.

So take the hands, take the stream, take the road that does not seem.

Far beyond the fallen skies, beyond the rolling hills. Find future sitting in the southern lands and fantasy through a lean-to.

Come count these brains of the twenty seven. All together come as one, many and none.

That is all. 

Remember then, when people come, kicking the sky down from overhead, normal is not a destination, it is a stream of thought, trapped between grocery lists and restaurant recipes. It is the brain chirping "yellow car" for the umteenth time, just because it can. Especially if present in a country known to have a regular dose of yellow vehicles for reasons still unknown.

What thoughts pass by on the rocky roads, rolling, won't fit into the cutout squares where peat moss sat for billions of years. No, its more likely these thoughts will wash downstream with the pins and coins, the bones and toys of days long past which melted deep into the earth as it grew and died, grew and died, over and over. Cementing the brains of humanity into the very earth itself.

Sink deeper now, into the sheets of dreamland.

Don't live normal. Live your story.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Live Imagination: An Event

Duh, duh, duh, duh duh duh, duh, duh.

Alright, so translating music into onomatopoeic words doesn't work well so here's an idea of what's got me humming today.

If you clicked the link and listened, you'll noticed it's from the 25th Anniversary Symphony from 5 years ago and the event which got me humming this epic theme tune again was the more recent run called the Symphony of the Goddesses which is basically a slightly updated version since the original run was so popular.

A view from in between during some pre-concert videos.

The lights dim, the cacophany of strings, brass and woodwinds tuning fills the air, smelling of anticipation. Murmurs and mutterings grow and then fall, suddenly as cymbals crash and the violins throw us into the world with a series of sixteenth notes.

We gallop through the plains of Hyrule on the back of Epona, we leap over rivers, walls and cliffs, we face down enemies and dark lords, traverse deadly dungeons and face puzzling trials.

A cheer rises around me. Audience appreciation was encouraged, this, may I remind you, is not a regular orchestral concert. This is a celebration.

A celebration of a series of stories in a complex world which we, the audience, have all connected to in some form or fashion.

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses at SSE Wembley in London, United Kingdom, has begun.

For 2 full hours I sit in rapt attention. Squeaking, cheering, whispering "yes!" or "love this bit!" or "I remember that!" as the music flies and a projector screen plays scenes from the games which match with the music. All in all, I am the epitome of the exciteable and adorable fan (according to my companion who has had the tragic misfortune, in my mind, of never playing a single Zelda game...yet).

Said companion has been used as a experimental subject in regards to why everyone should attend a fan-related concert.

As someone who has played nearly every Zelda game in existence, apart from any spin-offs, anniversary editions or remakes, I am with Link (the main character) for every flute twirl and trumpet salute; for every slash, dodge and dive that brings back the intense memories of the hours it took to conquer a particular dungeon or the frustration at a particular boss or the terror as the scenery turned to a shadowy underworld with an equally disturbing soundtrack (a particular dungeon I was never able complete unless the light was on and I knew someone else was nearby).

This experience is a unique one. Though they are growing in popularity thanks to the ever-closing gap between "mainstream" and "geek" (in terms of overall acceptance of the validity to celebrate, and be passionate about, such things).

So, why should you go to a concert for film, game, or tv music?

1. It's live music.

 No matter whether you know the significance behind the following tune, did you have an emotional reaction? Get goosebumps? Imagine something?

That is the goal and purpose of music. 

2. It'll take you back to childhood.

Okay, so you aren't going to recall the sweat, tears and cheers that go with finally getting through a difficult dungeon or a testy puzzle. Nor will you feel the nostalgia for entering the main town after a long trek, or laugh at the antics and snark of a particular character. No, you'll, at minimum, you might  get caught tapping your feet to a tune or humming along.

You might even experience your own imaginings to match the music and perhaps even start to catch the particular themes which hearld the hero, or gasp when the music creeps toward the moment Princess Zelda is snatched or the big bad appears. You're imagine will fire up and take you back to the days you knew you could be anything and were. You were a dragon one day. A pirate the next. And then pirate-dragon-detective on the third day.

That's the power of music.

That's why you need to check your calendars to the next themed concert you can find. They are everywhere these days and cover most everything, so who knows, maybe you will find one which plays tunes from childhood, favourite films or a top composer like Hans Zimmer.

Either way, go, listen and revel in the magic with fellow fans, friends and lovers of music.

You don't need to dress up in costumes, or have a heated debated about what game is the best, or critique the representation of the game via the music and clips used. No, all you need is to enjoy the feeling of imagination washing over and through you via the medium of music.

Relax. Let the music transport you and leave you with a satisfaction and smile achieved by one thing only. A connection to possibility.

Passion. Imagination.

Let your mind run wild.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cardiff: City of Curios

Some people don't know where Cardiff is, most people don't particularly care about going there. Wales. Really? Tiny. Sidelined next to the big ones. England. Scotland. What's there to do in Wales but see sheep? A lot of sheep?

And stone circles. Lots. Also sacrificial stones. This is a park.

Well, yes, there are sheep. But then again, trek anywhere outside of city walls in the entirety of the United Kingdom (or the green isle of Ireland) and you are going to see sheep. Triple the usual amount too, seeing as it is lamb season.

The other thing people identify Cardiff with is it's position as the base of operations and general action for anything relating to that snazzy and ever-popular network known as the BBC. Everything from little period dramas like Society at Cranford, to series which got far bigger than first imagined like Poldark. Add in more modern suspects like Luther and Misfits and drop the flagship series of Doctor Who, and well, there's few people in the world who don't know what you're talking about.

As such, the city of Cardiff and the country of Wales itself, is a candy store for any afficiando of any BBC drama. Every corner has ended up on a show at least once, if not been used multiple times over for everything from a standard mystery to a supernatural spree.

Except that is not Cardiff. Not really. Or rather, Cardiff is a million more little things than that. Truly, Cardiff is a giant curiousity shop.

On the surface it is just any other town, but peel back the layers, like you might an onion and you see the underbelly that has been germinating thanks to years upon years of countless creative individuals descending upon the town for months at a time to funnel their imaginations into sense, suspense and success for audience satisfaction (and absolute obsession).

Start by wandering down to Cardiff Bay. Make the stop into the fabulous and fantastic Doctor Who Experience (just get it out of your system), spy the TARDIS perched on a rock in the harbour, not far from the Norwegian church where the famous Roald Dahl was baptised as a baby.

Then, beyond you'll spy a great silver building with Welsh words wrapping in block cut-out letters at the front. The Millenium Centre. The words translate to "in these stones horizons sing" and oh do the stones of Wales sing. Stories after stories await in all the corners of Cardiff, whether you believe Captain Jack Harkness is going to saunter up from the Torchwood base below the centre, his miltary coat swinging and witty grin quirked (see wiki if you don't know this awesome character) or you wonder who the people are who pass in and out the doors or along the street. What they do. Who they are. What they have done.

The Millenium Centre (under which sits the Torchwood base of course)

Meander your way back up to Cardiff and you'll probably pass under a bridge stamped with "brains or brawn." If you're me, you'll snort and think, "obvious. Brains are far more superior." The reality is a little bit less interesting as it's just a play on the Welsh branded beer 'Brains.' Once you've hit the city make a beeline for Cardiff castle. It's impressive. Grand walls and a huge grass courtyard lead up to a looming hill on which is perched the central tower. A medieval masterpiece.

It's Brains you want!

The reality? It's a mix-matched revitalised Gothic style with Victorian period flair on the inside and is more of a flagship for the secret curio side of Cardiff than any medieval history might be. Each room is more elaborate than the last, as the Victorian owner, Lord Bute was more focused on updating (and generally bulldozing over (in the metaphorical sense) old Roman and medieval remains into something resembling an overgrown Victorian country house. Excessive is an understatement. But that was the point. Besides, you might say the BBC are a bit excessive with some of their shows so humanity hasn't exactly grown out of the desire to show off stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Crammed into architectural corners and wooden cupboards.

Back side of Cardiff Castle seen from Bute Park.

None of those are the best bits though. It's finding the corners and corridoors which run in, out, around and between the streets and straight lines of buildings. Known as the arcades these are where the curiousities of Cardiff shine. Quaint tea rooms, old-fashioned barber shops, a bespoke tailor, a boardgame merchant, book shop, camera store and a shop selling more buttons than you coud ever imagine, not to mention the usual vintage clothing and shoe shops. Cardiff also has a ridiculous number of joke and costume shops (possibly an aftershock of it being a centre for crazy creatives who have day jobs prentending to be different people or making characters get into unfortunate situations).

Seating at a cafe down one arcade.

There is even an ice cream parlour, known as Science Cream, which, in front of your eyes, has lab equipped and dressed employees mix up your ice cream using the special ingredient of liquid nitrogen to do so.

Best ice cream ever. And I'm not a big ice cream fan.
 The usual town marketplace, though one of the rare covered ones (as most towns have open air these days) pales in comparision, though it too is a fun romp of two stories full of fresh fruits, veggies, meats, fish, breads, desserts, cafes, fabrics, DIY bits and other such things.

Even the hostels are quirky. The Bunk House is especially so with it's dark main entrance illuminated by lightbulbs in vintage birdcages and a ceiling covered in a rainbow of paper cranes, hot air balloons and faerie lights. The seating is made up of old leather couches, picnic tables with lit up umbrellas and vintage beds with metal or wood headboards and covered in colourful quilts, throws and pillows.

All in all, it makes you wonder at times where the creativity started. Was it Cardiff? With it's blocks of houses called Silurian Place (which happens to be an alien species featured in Doctor Who) or was it just the thousands of creative people and their minds leaking their imaginations across the pavement?

Either way, don't go to Cardiff with the off-chance hope of knocking elbows with actors, writers and directors of your favourite shows, or for fan-cheering the famous locations. Well, you can do that, but also go to Cardiff to explore the corners and quirks.

Who knows, if you sit and think hard enough, some of your brilliant imagination might leave a splash of paint which will be picked up and used in your favourite show later on.


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Lightbulbs: A Drabble

She wasn't a Betty. Or a Betsy. Not even a Milly, a Molly or a Mandy. Certainly not a Mary or a Charlotte.

Catherine was too pretentious and Elizabeth, too grand.

No, she was just Terry.

This is all learned the third time I met her. Directly, anyway. Though even as I say third time, it might have been the first, for all the two of us knew in the moment. It wasn't until later that I connected the other signposts together.

Either way, it held more weight than our first meeting. Now that one was more of a "pass the salt please" situation, let alone an afternoon's tittle tattle over tea or a duel of wits over drinks. It was born from the stupidity the human race descends into after months of grey lightbulbs suddenly getting switched over to halogen golden. Like flies to flame humanity descended outdoors. Coupled with the usual insanity around working hours, well, I found myself playing human Tetris as I navigated my way through a station and dive-bombed, Olympic style, through the closing doors of the train I needed.

The trials weren't over. Once on, I was still in such fast forward motion I tripped a pair of home-painted converse and slipped into the crack between a six foot five business man with discreet dreadlocks and a gaggle of Spanish girls in heels, only to nearly fall in the lap of an older lady with Einstein hair and a pink jumper with cherries all over it.

I apologised profusely and managed to gather my bearings.

"Up 'n at 'em dear. Don't want to miss your stop."

I apologised again. Righted myself properly and promptly buried my nose in my phone. Three stops later the lady was off and three more stops later the train was less like a can of beans but I was off anyway and back into fresh air and sunshine. I forgot the encounter.

The second time I met her I dropped the three avocadoes I was analysing. You can never tell with avocadoes. Ripe or not to be ripe. That is the ridiculous question and I spend more than enough time as it is, agonising over purchases at the supermarket.

I was bent down, mortified, when a weathered hand dropped into my vision and passed me one avocado.

"Perfect that'un."


"Is. See?" She knocked it with a fist. I winced, practically feeling the avocado squish. "You can always tell the squidgy ones. Bad for business having avocadoes. Don't want a squidgy business."

"Of course."

The old lady eyed me down, "work hard. Help's always wanted. Somewhere. And people always talk. Somewhere."  

"Thanks." I nodded and scarpered off toward the cheeses, even though I had no intention of getting any.

The third time my car had broken down near a canal. I plonked next to it to wait. On the bend of the water's edge was a boat called "Dances with Bears." I idly picked at the grass around my crossed legs and wondered if it was inspired by the film Dances with Wolves, when the boat began to move.


Inch by inch it chugged ahead. A man and woman of around fifty popped out of either side of the boat and jumped up onto the bank.

They began pulling at the levers to set the lock so the boat could move down to the next level as it slipped forward, nose close to the gate. At the back wheel was an old lady of nearly ninety, with Einstein hair and a pink, cherry decorated jumper.

I was nearly at the point of connecting the dots when a furry missile bowled me over. Stick in a drooling mouth, I realised a second later it was only a dog.

"June! Sit!" The old lady, who was presently waiting on the lock to fill with water, commanded.

The dog sat. Panting.

"She's missing a lightbulb today. Land-sick." The lady shouted over to me. I shuffled up from my position on the grass, just to be in polite talking distance.

"It's fine." I said.

The old lady harumphed. "Not on my watch. Been waiting years to command my own ship. A dog's not ruining it."

"Don't mind." I said.

"I don't need help. I said. I don't need help. I'm going to do this." The old lady ranted on, not quite noticing I was standing nearby. Helpless under her tirade.

"Your generation doesn't do anything. We did it all. All. Least my son's generation knew to listen. They had a lightbulb on somewhere." Her rant was cut short by a shout from the couple.

"Terry move 'er in!" They called. "We're ready!"

"Ah. Good timing. Have a lightbulb on me. Buy yourself a boat with lightbulbs." Words passed on, she turned her attention down the narrow strip of the lock and canal. "Come on girl. Let's do this." Inch by inch, the long boat slipped deftly between the narrow sides of the lock bridge and walls.

I cheered with the couple who watched from the other end of the lock.

"Happy trekking," Terry waved. "Places to be and all that."  She whistled with her fingers between her teeth.

"Get on ye runt!" She shouted at her dog. "This bear waits for no creature."

Inspired by the luck of catching a boat moving through a lock on a canal in Wales and my favourite spoken word poet, Shane Koyczan, who grew up not far from my little hometown. Below you'll find the specific poem if your curious. Formally it's known as "Help Wanted" but in the spoke word circles it's got the nickname of "Grandma's Got Her Game On."


Friday, 3 April 2015

Bath: A Tub of History

Stylish. Unanimous. Uniform. Sleek.


The famous Royal Crescent.

Those words and their synonyms summarise Bath. A city which looks to have been built in one era, when in reality, it is part of as many eras as any city in these parts of the world. So what makes it so special? It's in the layers.

Or perhaps it's all in the footnotes.

The Romans founded it.

The Georgian era nobility kept it.

The 21st century stylises it.

When someone asks what period you would most like to go back to, what would you say?

In my experience, most people answer the question as asked. With what period they would love to visit or live in. The problem? Well, the past is never so shiny as we make it out to be and so very few answers are, "no I am quite happy in my own time period."

Today, Bath embodies that particular question. Prompting imaginations to run while as you walk streets lined with the gorgeous symmetry of Georgian design and local, golden Bath stone.

Step down an alley, peer through a crack and you'll start seeing something different. A bit like laying down tiles for a mosaic, Bath is not the sum of one thing. It is the sum of many things. Many eras. But literally built on top of the other.

Below street level, in a hideaway alley behind a row of homes, is the sole remaining Roman gateway. Now it is a just another arched doorway tucked away and forgotten.

Outside the Baths, this is all that's left of the Roman's here.

 Walk to the side of any building and you'll spy the cracks in the facade since the city died off for a time after the Romans left, picked up a little during the medieval period and then died again. Its life-curing waters from the United Kingdom's only hot springs, not enough to sustain the town.

That is, until the 1700's when Queen Anne decided she'd test the legendary water and thus it was built up, to the state it remains in today, with medieval buildings touched up and covered over with the tidy Grecian inspired symmetery and design which is so inconcruous against the time period's excessive fashion of giant hair and giant dresses.

Except for one thing, it's all a facade.

Look in the corner of your eye where you never want to look. Who knows what you'll see.

 Imagine this: elaborate head-pieces which often involved fruit, birds and even a model ship in one woman's hair, was a way to distract everyone's noses from everyone else (since utterly no one properly bathed back then). Even the bathing in the famous spring baths was done still in a mostly complete costume.

Ridiculous. But hey, they were human. We're still human. The internet is 95% full of ridiculous cat pictures and videos. Nothing changes. Humans still dress up, put on shows, put on masks and try on new faces, depending on the people they are with or situations they are in. 

Remembering, and musing upon facades and their place in our lives is the sole reason why I would say visit Bath. To spend the day exploring its hidden corners and tendency to secrete away things which aren't tidy, stylish and neat.

Like this hideout/cafe. Located behind various bushes secreted underneath a bridge of busy traffic.
For me, well, I love good wear and tear, prefering to side with the Japanese view that anything weathered has far more value than something still pristine and untouched. Wear shows use, history and love or desire. But that's me and my personal preference for life. Bath is a puzzle to be ripped apart rather than put back together which makes for an entertaining day of backwards thinking while you pause to photograph the stunning Pulteney Bridge (you might recognise it from the film of Les Miserables where Javert drops to his death), the dizzying Circus or austere Royal Crescent. 

Yes, this is that famous bridge.
 When you first visit Bath don't get pulled into the tourist traps of the Jane Austen Centre, the Roman Baths or the modern Thermae Bath Spa, the Fashion museum or other such attractions.

Start by walking around. Look. Explore. Peer into corners. You'll see wear, tear and ruin beyond the stylish wig of golden stone. Then go check out the tourist spots.

Compare. Which is better? Which is more real? It's not like the Georgian style is a Doctor Who-esque perception filter. Nope. It's real too. Just in a different way.

The Weeping Angels are coming.

And don't forget to try some of the spring water at the Roman Baths.

It will change your life. (Translation: Just open the flipping door and...snap).

Just maybe not how you were expecting.