Categories
Life

Stranger Things at Secret Cinema

It’s rare that I’m lost for words, but even two hours after a long journey home, I’m still trying to decompress, and absorb the events of the evening. It’s all a bit difficult to explain too – because, you see, this evening I returned to 1985. Not the 1985 I remember either – I returned to 1985 in Hawkins, Indiana – the setting for the TV show “Stranger Things”.

My eldest daughter and I were bought tickets for Christmas – to visit the “Starcourt Mall” at a secret location in London on the 12th January. Although we instantly knew where the name of the location came from, the rest remained a mystery over the intervening days – only knowing that we would have to dress in period clothes.

I’m trying really hard not to break any confidences, expose any secrets, or ruin surprises for anybody that might stumble upon this post in the coming days – while the Starcourt Mall is still open for business.

Imagine walking through a door into 1985, and into the world of a beloved television series. Imagine cutting yourself off from the world you have always known, and diving headlong into perhaps the most confounding shared experience you might ever try to describe – shaking your head as events unfold around you, and only realising after leaving that from the moment you walked in you were on the stage – that you were a part of it.

You pick it apart afterwards, you try to deconstruct the experience with those that shared the secret with you, and you smile. The most interesting thing? You have no photographic proof – only memories, and stories.

For several hours this evening, the Hawkins of 1985 came to life, drew us in, erased the lines between fiction and reality, and left us stunned, and struggling to decompress for some time afterwards.

Secret Cinema is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Categories
Life

An Opportunity to Tell Your Story

Following a chance conversation with a distant friend this evening, I’ve been turning an idea over and over in my head. I have no idea how I might go about proceeding with it, but that’s perhaps half the fun of it.

This friend – who lives on the other side of the world – made a comment that her latest online endeavor had not attracted as much interest as she hoped. Alongside her day job working in a hotel, she does modelling shoots at weekends – quite often Alberto Vargas inspired photography using old cars as props at vintage automotive events. Here’s the thing – there is much more to her than a wicked grin, and a slender leg splitting a 1940s skirt – she has a story to tell – one that few would suspect unless they gave her the time to tell it.

I’m wondering about doing just that – giving her the chance to tell her story. Perhaps not just her though.

Everybody has interesting stories to tell. We might think our own stories mundane, inconsequential, boring – but they explain who we are, and how we came to be here. We are all interesting in our own way.

I’m thinking about starting a podcast.

I hesitate to call it a podcast – rather a collection of conversations with friends – people I have crossed paths with on the internet. From the glass artist in Oregon, to the dance teacher in Newfoundland, the aspiring model in Kansas, the hockey-mom in Ontario, the warehouse manager in New York – the list is endless, and so are their stories. Interesting stories. Stories of happiness, sadness, victory, loss, stress, anxiety, loneliness, serendipity… so many stories that few of us know anything about.

What do you think? And perhaps more importantly, when are you available ?

Categories
Life

Memories of Mix Tapes

After a few days bumping along the bottom of the blogging barrel, I have arrived at the weekend armed with a glass of red wine, a new blog, and no idea what my fingers might write next. Once you realise my fingers are almost entirely responsible for the content I publish to the internet, with little or no involvement from my brain, a lot of things start to make sense.

Tears for Fears just burst through the computer speakers with “Everybody Want’s to Rule the World” – courtesy of an 80s playlist from Spotify. I’m becoming increasingly lazy when it comes to music – happy to leave a playlist running in the background for hour upon hour. In my teens and early twenties music meant more somehow – the contents of a mix tape was a window to your soul. When somebody shared a tape with you, you knew they had spent hours compiling it – carefully editing and curating – scrawling the artists and track names into the paper cover with care.

My children must be sick of Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Duran Duran, ABC, Go West, Roxy Music, The Eurythmics, and the countless other artists of decades past I gravitate towards if left unsupervised. It probably doesn’t help that I look down my nose at Stormzy, Ed Sheeran, and Lewis Capaldi with such aloof derision (mostly designed to annoy my children – one of the few vices I can indulge in while washing up to the strains of yet another sentimental whinge-fest by Mr Sheeran).

I remember making a mix tape for somebody I worked with many years ago, and trying to hide a message within the selection of songs. I was secretly moritifed when I learned she had no interest in listening to anything outside of the “top 40”, and had completely ignored three quarters of the tracks I so carefully compiled.

Journey have just begun singing “Don’t Stop Believing” – forever etched in my memory as the theme song to that movie where the impossibly pretty serving staff dance on a drink sodden bar without breaking their ankles *. Of course there are other memories of concert footage from YouTube, involving skin tight denim, massive hair, and Steve “The Voice” Perry belting the song out to an adoring audience of similarly stretch-denim clad massive hair fans.

My other half and eldest daughter have just returned from an induction at the local gymnasium. Apparently tonight they went on the walking machines and cross-trainers – doing “cardio”. I guess that means the end of my partner-in-running-crime. Doing the “Couch to 5K” before Christmas reminded me how much I like running. It’s a shame the weather doesn’t feel the same way – it’s been raining pretty consistently since late August last year. Doing anything outside seems to involve coats, waterproofs, hats, and changes of clothes – which in turn causes the biggest clothes washing mountain in the known universe.

Anyway. I’ve probably rambled on quite long enough. The glass of red wine is now empty, and acquiring another will no doubt involve a walk (in the rain) to the corner shop. I swear the man behind the counter thinks I live on a mixture of bread, washing up liquid, cheap wine, and chocolate.

  • A wonderful friend just informed me that my memory is broken! The lead actress in Coyote Ugly sings “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” – not “Can’t Fight That Feeling”. Please excuse me while I have wonder what else I can’t remember!
Categories
Life

A Secret of Sorts

On Sunday afternoon I will travel into London with my daughter, arrive at a location I am not allowed to share with anybody, and will be greeted in a back street by one or more of a group of kids that walked straight out of the 1980s. We will then walk into a shopping mall that nobody knows about, and spend the next several hours in 1985, Hawkins, Indiana.

It’s called “Secret Cinema”, and we got the tickets for Christmas. Each year they stage a spectacular movie or TV themed experience, and invite people to share in the secret with them. In recent years they have re-created Casino Royale, Star Wars, and this summer they turn their focus to Dirty Dancing.

We are walking back in time to Hawkins, Indiana, in 1985 to join Eleven, Mike, Hopper, Lucas, Joyce, Steve, Jonathan, Dustin, and so many more larger than life characters to immerse ourselves in the world of “Stranger Things”. We will buy ice creams from Scoops Ahoy, play video games in coin-op arcades, and hang out at the Mall for several hours – keeping our eyes and ears open for the principal cast, who will mingle among the visitors, making conversation, and staying in character.

There’s more to the experience than meets the eye. We have been instructed to dress as we might have in 1985 in order to fit in, and to take a notebook. Mobile phones are banned. Photography is banned. There is a second story within the experience – one that you can uncover if you dare. I imagine – being the world of Stranger Things – it’s going to involve some sort of excursion into the Upside Down, and scare us both to death.

Several parcels arrived from Amazon this morning – the first parts of our 1985 time machine. A varsity jacket, and nerd glasses for me. Hawkins school alumni t-shirts arrive tomorrow.

Now where’s that 1985 playlist on Spotify ?

Categories
Life

Cautiously Optimistic

After dipping toes back into the source code that ruled my life for much of last summer, I appear to be largely unscathed. This is worthy of celebration – or at least, the celebration that might be conjured with a glass of left-over red wine while sitting in the junk room at home.

It’s difficult to explain software development to people. Imagine writing a novel, and then returning to the novel in six months to change the wording of a few paragraphs here and there, such that they don’t cause any of the surrounding story to become broken. Now imagine the story changes are being dictated by a paying customer, and to a deadline agreed before you really understood how those changes might impact the existing text.

Just for fun, now imagine that one grammar, punctuation, or plot misjudgment will cause the entire text to vanish for a random selection of readers at any point in the story – but not always, and they never tell you where or when it started happening – just that it is happening.

Just to complete the picture, before you start writing the story, a salesperson asks how long it might take to write, agrees the story with the customer, and then informs you that only half the timescale is available – but they still want the entire story. Your project manager then sends you a plan telling you exactly how long it’s going to take you to write the story they have never seen or heard about.

It’s not all bad. Sometimes people buy cookies.

Categories
Life

Coffee O’Clock

I’m working from home today – to wait for a telephone network engineer visit – to figure out what’s wrong with our internet connection.

He arrived late this morning, and immediately set about replacing the wiring and phone socket in the front of our house, and tinkered with the junction box half a mile from the house.

I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea – and then discovered the kids had drunk all the milk. While he tested this and that with a testing tool, Miss 14 (who is on an inset day) ran to the corner shop for more milk. On her return I shouted “do you want sugar in your tea?”, and then discovered the kids had eaten all the sugar too. It’s a circular story around here – you look for something that was there yesterday, and invariably the kids have eaten or drunk it.

After testing the phone socket, the internet router, and various wires, we decided that the router was at fault – essentially halving the speed of the internet connection that reaches it. I then spent half an hour on the phone with our internet service provider, renewing our contract, and getting them to send a new router. Actually – I spent half an hour on hold in the tech-support maze somewhere in India, before being transferred back to the UK for the contracts department.

While talking to the contracts department (who would renew the contract, and give us a new router for free), I asked a simple question:

“Why is it going to cost me �31 a month, when it only costs new customers �22 a month?”

“That offer is only available to new customers”.

“But I’m out of contract – I’m a new customer – a new contract”.

“That offer is only available to new customers”.

“Ok – what about the router – are there any options to get a better router?”

“Oh, the new package comes with a new model of router that’s much better than previously.”

“What’s it called?”

(he tells me the model name)

“That’s what we have.”

“No, you haven’t got one of those – you’ve got the old model”

“Well it’s the same name.”

(the conversation went round in circles from there)…

Nothing is ever simple, and it seems everybody sits on a throne of lies these days.

I have one more problem to solve – we suspect the wire from the wall-socket to the router is partly to blame for the problems with the internet connection, so I’ve ordered a new one. I thought I might be able to get one in town, but after doing a lap of the main streets with our youngest, came up empty-handed. The town we live in is becoming increasingly terrible – filled with coffee shops, boutique restaurants, craft beer pubs, hair salons, and clothes shops for women of a certain age.

This was an informational broadcast on behalf of the you’re probably not interested party.

I should get on with some work.

Categories
Life

Nothing in Particular

I have been waiting most of the day for something sizeable to download from the internet. If our internet connection was behaving itself, I imagine it would have finished downloading quite some time ago (an engineer from the telephone company is visiting our house tomorrow morning to find out why).

I passed the time a little earlier by reading a graphic novel that’s not even on my “to read this year” list – “Lumberjanes” – originally bought for our younger daughters a couple of years ago. They didn’t show much interest in it, so it got subsumed into my own collection of books in the junk room – along with all the indie titles I have collected in recent years. It’s funny – I started out only interested in comic book artwork, by the likes of Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, and Amanda Conner – but then started reading a few of them, and got sucked in. Until recent years the only graphic novels I had ever read were the Tank Girl books – probably 20 years ago now – before Jamie Hewlett went on to draw the graphics for Gorillaz, and the Winter Olympics.

I now find myself at a loose end – hence yet another blog post about nothing in particular. I should re-title the blog “Nothing in Particular”. I could win awards for the most inconsequential content, or the least effort expended. Back in the day everybody and their dog had badges all over the blog, advertising the community awards that had been bestowed up on them. If memory serves, almost all awards were pyramid traffic schemes dressed up as awards.

While on the subject of pyramid traffic schemes, a “hoo-haa” of sorts has been brewing on Twitter over the last few days, and it’s quite entertaining in a “can’t stop watching” sort of way. I need to explain some things first though – bear with me.

On Twitter, a number of people have started including the hashtag “#WritingCommunity” in posts they want other writers to see, and perhaps comment on. This has created a belt-and-braces group functionality of sorts within the Twittersphere, with people watching search results related to the hashtag as a simple means of creating a “channel”. Anyway. Within the group, there seems to be a mania among some to attract as many followers to themselves as possible – they dress this up as a thing called “#writerlift”, and link a number of accounts to the post, with instructions to follow and/or re-share the list. There’s only one problem with this idea – it’s against the Twitter terms of service – terms as “encouraging reciprocal following” (or words to that effect).

So – when the news broke that Twitter had started reprimanding people for their behaviour (spamming the crap out of the system while chasing higher and higher follower numbers), a small number of very vocal people became ever so slightly enraged that the FREE platform they were taking advantage of should be questioning their behaviour at all – and reacted really quite badly (read: amusingly, and somewhat predictably). I have therefore been sitting quietly on a nearby fence for the last few days, eating popcorn, and enjoying all the butt-hurt posts.

It’s a storm in a tea-cup really, but an entertaining one. There are far more important things going on in the world right now – you know, like the US President almost declaring war on Iran. I saw a wonderful post on Facebook earlier – “hang on while I go and catch up on the expert analysis of world events being published by the people Facebook knows I went to school with”…

Categories
Life

Nothing is Something

I cycled to work this morning, and it was raining yet again. I can’t help feeling that I’m living in some kind of Truman Show inspired hell, where rain clouds follow me around. It would also explain the bizarre phenomenon where I walk up to a road junction, and non player character cars appear from every direction to prevent me from crossing – even my daughters have started to notice it.

Just in case you’re wondering, I have little of consequence to share today – but I’m certainly not going to let that stop me from posting something. It’s strange really – after you’ve posted every day for a good number of consecutive days, it turns into a sort of mania. Of course nothing will happen if I don’t post anything (apart from the world not being blessed with yet more pollution of the internet at my idiotic hands), but I’ll know I haven’t posted anything. I can almost hear the school teacher in my head castigating me – “you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let your blog down…”

Glancing at the clock, I have thirteen minutes until I need to hit the publish button. I’m not sure I have thirteen minutes worth of content hanging around in the darker corners of my absent mind.

Perhaps it might be wise to finish the post right here, and admit defeat for a change. These words still count though, right? This is still a post? I mean – it isn’t about anything, but it’s still a post. Granted – if this is the first post you’ve discovered by me, you’re not likely to come back, but it still counts, right? (actually, thinking about it, the other four and a half thousand posts don’t really elevate themselves much above this one either).

Categories
Life

The Well of All Souls

I just got sucked into watching a YouTuber who’s entire career seems to consist of bashing anything and everything anybody does – and they have somehow become internet-famous through doing it (although “famous” is of course a relative term). I can imagine when they started out it was the typical reactionary bullshit that most kids spout in their mid-to-late teens. Now they are in their mid-to-late 20s? Not so much.

How can I get the last half hour of my life back?

In other news, I returned to work today. I sometimes wish I could tell you about some of the projects I work on, because they’re sometimes interesting (yes, I know – “for a given value of interesting”). My family never ask what I have been up to during the day – not because they wouldn’t understand – more because they are not interested. At all. As far as they are concerned, I dick around with computers all day. And that’s why I got a phone call at 5pm, asking why the internet might not be working.

“Oh, hang on – I’ll just wave my Doctor Strange ring at the wall, and step into our back room”.

And no, I didn’t say that. I actually said:

“Is the phone line crackling?”

“Yes”

“Then the cat has probably peed on the broadband socket again.”

Yes – our entire online existence has been reduced to a dependency on an incontinent cat. Actually, that’s unfair. He’s a cat, and we all know cats are assholes, don’t we. He probably followed cat logic, which determined something like “oh, that guy that feeds us EVERY MORNING also looks after the computers in the house – you know – like the Chromebook the female one uses all evening instead of letting us sit on her lap. WE MUST STOP THE CHROMEBOOK”. The cat then spent several years studying our behaviour, and determined that the source of the Chromebook’s unbending power comes from the plugsocket by the front-door. What better way to disable the internet than pee on it.

It would be funny if it wasn’t true.

Now we have a telephone engineer coming out on Monday (I’ll have to work from home AGAIN), and I’ll have to try and clean the hallway sufficiently that he doesn’t discover our CAT PEED ON THE WALL SOCKET, and charge us for it.

Being fair, the nice Indian man on the telephone support line did explain that most broadband faults occur between the house and the exchange. I didn’t tell him about the cat though.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a TV programme I’ve been waiting to watch all evening – a new BBC adaptation of Dracula. I’ll be the one hiding behind a cushion in the corner of the lounge.