Monday, 9 December 2019

Why Me and Teaching Need a Bit of Distance.


When I finished my degree in 2014, I had wholeheartedly enjoyed my university experience and had worked hard throughout but I still had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. I had some insecurities about my university experience, in that I often felt I took the easy option and just did what came naturally to me but it became apparent quite quickly that those who were to succeed in the media industry and get the job of their dreams were those who already knew what to pursue, had that focus and would stop at nothing to get there.

For a long time, I thought it was journalism that I wished to pursue and I'd taken mostly the right steps to make that happen but I soon realised that my own values and morals would possibly jar with what was needed to make it in that industry. I loved writing and I loved expressing creativity and passion through writing but had no intent to pry or probe and found interview situations awkward and un-natural. I saw those around me experimenting with the world of broadcast, be it TV or radio and it interested me but again, insecurities and jars with my own values and morals stopped me from pursuing anything in that field. I was nervous, I was introverted and whilst I was sure of myself in many realms, in others, I had very little confidence and a fear of failing or being judged. And so, I plodded along with the journalistic side of things and was somewhat happy, doing all the right things, getting work experience and having work published in local news outlets, starting a blog but ultimately never really pushed myself aside from that, and wasn't 100% sure if this was what I actually wanted to do. When my degree ended, I still had that passion and love of writing but as I'd not stepped out of my comfort zone enough, I didn't quite have the experience, contacts or confidence I probably should have had in order to get into that profession. And so, I found myself at a bit of a loss and having a complete re-evaluation of my skills, my desires and the things I'd learned and developed over the last few years.

One thing that had always fleetingly crossed my mind was the prospect of teaching. I loved writing and creating, I loved my chosen subject and a bunch of others alongside and I loved the whole concept of learning and had always been able to help people academically. I'd always played teachers as a kid, constantly taking registers with my family and asking them to declare if they'd require packed lunches or school dinners and relishing the opportunity to get out the whiteboard at gran's and force everyone to play along. And I was, even though I'd never admit it, labelled the bossy one in the family, despite my deeper introversion. This continued through my childhood and once computers entered our homes, it only developed as hand-written registers were a thing of the past and now I could make PowerPoints and handouts for everyone to reluctantly complete, just for fun... mine, not anyone else's! As I got older, these things naturally stopped and the prospect of teaching only crossed my mind again whilst in sixth form college. I'd evaluated the experiences I'd had with different teachers and reckoned that some of my teachers had been the second biggest influence and driving force in my life, aside from family and some had been frankly, not great. Although the former were the ones I held in such high regard and always remembered, the latter were the ones who actually made teaching a prospect for me. When inadequate experiences with teachers occurred, it led me to think, "I could do that" or "if I was teaching this, how would I do it?" I then also took part in being a sample class for prospective new teachers and loved that, loved seeing all the different personalities and techniques demonstrated by all of them and suddenly, the seed was subconsciously planted. It was buried until I'd finished my degree and had the realisation that I had no path of progression and whilst evaluating my life and abilities and thinking deeply about what I could do, the seed began to sprout again.

I looked into the possibility of teaching and it seemed more straightforward to pursue than I expected, particularly as I'd already decided that I wanted to teach in further education environments and it was simply a year's add-on to my degree in the form of a PGCE. I took this path and really enjoyed my PGCE experience and felt at this point that I had matured and realised that this was the purpose I'd been looking for and really took everything on board and relished this new, different, mature learning environment. I met great friends from all different paths, fields and generations and learnt a lot from all of them. This was now something I definitely wanted to do and I would do it. It was difficult and it was testing but alas, that was teaching and everyone who gets into this profession knows that. The reward outweighed the challenges and the job satisfaction was above anything I'd ever experienced.
For the first year or two of my teaching career I was on cloud nine. Don't get me wrong, there were still tough, stressful days but I always felt so lucky and proud to be able to call myself a teacher at the age of 23/24 because it always felt like it'd be something it would take years to get into and it was of course, an esteemed profession, held in high regard. I considered myself to have the best job in the world and felt certain that this was my forever job and I had life nailed, in the career stakes anyway.

But four years later and a very different picture has been painted. For the first few years, I was somewhat oblivious to the funding, business and financial nature of education. Obviously I knew how things worked and how the system played out but it wasn't my job to fully understand it or play a part in it and I still don't really think teachers should. However as funding has become more prominently discussed in the profession both on a micro and macro scale, it became clear that it actually was factoring into my job and that things like recruitment, retention and achievement all played a part in this and those things were actually within my remit as a teacher.
This, like many other things I'd encountered in life, began to jar with my own motives, values, morals and incentives and I started to resent this culture of business, restriction and accountability that was inherently built into the sector. As more responsibility came my way, it became harder to avoid this and found it being echoed on the news, with other teachers from other institutions and sectors and even in other industries. Funding, time and resources were at the heart of everything and these were the things that made the career so difficult and challenging, but were also quite often things that were completely out of the control of the teacher. And having experienced so many different strands of the NHS this year, I would argue that the same issues are arising there, with the lack of funding, time and resources and a culture of business, accountability and restriction taking over a sector that should be driven by care, integrity and trust and at grassroots level, it definitely is, but unfortunately, those things seem to be over-ridden by the former, from those above making all the decisions.

This year for me, has been a whirlwind of traumatic and upsetting instances, all of which have only helped alter my perspective on life and this profession and my future on the whole. This very week last year, I received a call to say that my grandfather, who I lived with had been given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. On the very same day, an Ofsted call also came. That week alone was one of the hardest weeks of my life, I don't think a single day occurred where I didn't cry my eyes out at one thing or the other, or indeed both. Unfortunately, for me, those two things seemed to set the tone for the entire next 12 months in terms of the resilience, empathy and emotional integrity required.

Teaching is not just a profession, in order to do it well and do it right, in the current climate of education, it's a lifestyle. The confidence and enthusiasm required to teach a class of students everyday is gargantuan and whilst it comes naturally for some, others, like myself, often need to dig deep to find it. And when you have your own personal struggles and commitments, that is especially hard to do. If you said to any person outside the profession, "here's a bunch of resources, just bob in there and teach those students for an hour and a half or two hours", it would fill a lot of people with absolute dread. It is, inherently a performance, day in, day out and often requires a damn good poker face and a lot of tongue biting as well as what I was once told is sacred to a good teacher, the classroom presence. That alone is difficult to deliver but it is part and parcel of the job and so, you crack on. What really drives that out of you though, is when the energy and effort you need for that part of the job is slowly eaten up by administrative tasks, the financial burdens of the sector, the meetings, emails, phone-calls. And each of these then unearthing further tasks within tasks. And of course, ultimately the resilience and thick skin required to do a job where you are a source of support for so many people. Those things for me, were leaving me numb, devoid of energy and I was getting home constantly feeling exhausted and either with no energy to socialise whatsoever or being volatile and irritable, often about things completely out of my control and just generally feeling like I'd given the whole of my personality for that day, or even the full week. And in a year of personal trauma, I didn't want to exhaust all my stores and give the best version of myself to my career. I wanted to exhaust those stores and give the best version of myself to family, to friends and selfishly but not selfishly, to myself. My mental health was taking a turn for the worse, with me getting anxious and irritable about things I never used to and it was very noticeable to me and those around me, my physical health was also showing signs that enough was enough and my whole mindset and perspective just started to alter. What saddens me is that I've spoken to so many people in the profession who feel much the same. What saddens me is the amount of amazing people I've met on my teaching rollercoaster and how much I hope things alter for those still on the ride and for those to be taught by them in the years to come.

I don't know what's next for me, but I need to rebuild, regain some focus and purpose and re-evaluate what's best for me and what I want to do. I love expression. I love writing, learning, drawing, creativity and generation of ideas. I always have. I have always been at my happiest when creating. Teaching gave me a little kick of creativity but the time and space for personal growth and creativity was being eaten up by other things, other tasks, other priorities. And it didn't always allow that expression. We enable others to be creative and express themselves but didn't want to do the same so as to not sway their interests or opinions and let them fully take control of these for themselves.

The moral of the story is that teaching needs some serious TLC because education is rife with stories like mine and these are often from damn good teachers who quite probably had a lot to offer when allowed to uphold their own priorities and perform within the right parameters for them. I can't stress enough that teaching is not all 9-3 and an abundance of holidays. My days were nearly 12 hours and that doesn't account for the time left thinking about or worrying about it. And my holidays were no different from the standard 4/5 weeks most professions get, only they were restricted to outside term time. Not many jobs require such confidence, resilience, hard-work, enthusiasm and passion and the ones that do are feeling the same pressures and struggles. Things that look good on paper aren't often things that matter to actual people. Wellbeing is about differentiation, something teachers know more about than most.

So this, is essentially me laying myself on the line, highlighting this and asking those who can change it, to change it and actually change it, not just make it look like you are, on paper.

Stop the cuts.
Stop the rigorous judgement and inspection or at least the manner in which it's done.
Stop trying to shoe-horn people into things that simply don't fit them.
Stop scrimping on things that require huge investment to prevent traumatic experiences like with mental health, and special needs support.
Stop zero hours or unreliable contracts for jobs that require people to give every ounce of themselves and commit fully when the same treatment and commitment clearly can't be given back to them.
Stop the culture of presenteeism.
Stop the culture of contradiction, stop the culture of having to do everything, twice.
Start consulting grassroots people when making decisions and policies that directly affect them and the things they deal with day in, day out.
Start giving the trust and respect back to these people.
Start remembering what it's really all about and who is at the heart of it all.

What's very telling is how many of those above points can apply to other sectors at the moment, other sectors also in dire need of TLC.

I need some distance from teaching, it may not be forever, because I know, I'm damn good at it (it's rare I'll big myself up, so let's go with it). But I will always fight the teacher corner, because I've been there and I know exactly what it entails.
A year has passed since that diagnosis for my grandad and a year has passed since that Ofsted call. And so much has now changed. Grandad fought for a year and is now at peace and missed by us all.
And I've left my profession and am now doing all I can to shake the anxiety, volatility and loss of confidence and purpose I seem to have experienced over the last 12 months.
I hope the next year brings more positive change and I really hope this is a blog post that opens people's eyes and one that people can relate with. I'm not a political genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I know my own experiences and I've said it so many times but something's seriously got to alter.

In the meantime, if anyone needs a writer or illustrator or anything I can creatively set my mind to... give me a shout!

Monday, 4 November 2019

It's OK to Talk About Death. But How?


So, probably not the uplifting, feel good opening to a blog that you’d normally expect but I just found myself watching a segment of This Morning where Jim Carter was chatting to Phil and Holly about the taboo of talking about death and I found myself needing to write more about this.

It resonated with me so much because we recently experienced such a huge family loss and often, you find that until that time comes, you never consider it.
And you shouldn’t, to some respect. You can’t live life waiting for that to happen and some people obviously experience it suddenly and don’t get that chance.

However the point of this particular segment was that they were discussing the fact that we are so ready to shun conversations about death and quickly shush people who make statements like "well, when I die..." just casually. And in many ways, that's not helpful because it means that so many people are left completely clueless, alone and with a lot of pressure when a loss does happen.


Marie Curie have recently set up an advertising campaign to encourage people to be more open about death and that's where this discussion has stemmed from. On their website, they break down our attitude to death and the different ways we cope, we refer to it, we celebrate life in general. And having just lost someone very close to me, I really do welcome this campaign.
We knew we were going to face our loss and so although things were talked about and discussed, we aren't a particularly open family in some respects and I really don't think we're the only ones, hence why I think this initiative is great.

When the time comes there are so many things you wouldn't have considered, so many things that probably weren't discussed or talked about and although it's difficult, emotional and upsetting, the slightest little bit of information could help those facing the loss later on. I've talked to friends and family lately about how bizarre I found some of the traditions and processes around death and marking a death and so many have agreed that whilst there's a formality about proceedings and that marks a lot of respect for those who have passed, it sometimes can seem un-natural and un-realistic when you are such laid-back, casual people and you haven't really talked about it. And I think opening up the conversation around death would definitely help. Attitudes and processes surrounding death differ across the world but a lot of what we know of end of life and funerals comes from what we see on TV until we are faced with those situations ourselves.

It is a sensitive subject, it is hard to confront and many of us just don't feel comfortable with these conversations and discussions but I think it's great that there's a campaign to open this up and I wanted to share that.
I also wanted to share something which may seem trivial and odd to some but something I found incredibly useful and comforting after the recent passing of my grandad.

A while ago, I purchased a gift for my grandparents to mark their wedding anniversary and it was two journals, one for each of them, which had questions on each and every page. Things like "tell me about where you grew up", "what did you do to pass time as a child?", "who was your hero or biggest influence?" and the purpose was for them to write in the book, fill it out and hand it back to me when they'd completed it, so that I could read about their lives and their thoughts and opinions.

At the time of buying these, we had no idea grandad was ill and it was just a thoughtful gesture because I loved listening to tales of their lives but didn't often get the opportunity to have those chats. Grandad was a quiet, respectful man and a man of very few words and so this book proved to be eye-opening and incredibly helpful when we re-discovered it upon his passing. It helped us reminisce, helped us to make arrangements, and gave me a little piece of him that I can always refer back to and read.
If you and your family find such conversations hard or simply have regrettably had few opportunities to discuss and reflect on lives and your memories, then I would strongly recommend these books which you can buy for all members of family, friends and even yourself. The one I bought was by From You to Me as part of their Journals of a Lifetime range and was suggested to me by a friend but you can purchase them via this link.




A different post but one to get us all thinking.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Shopping Small & Supporting Creatives this Christmas



As you'll know if you've read my recent posts and seen the changes to my pages over the last few months, I recently expanded moreth4nwords to include an online store featuring prints and cards created through my digital illustration.

As I've been adding to my Instagram, Etsy and posting more and more digital illustration content, I've found myself part of an ever-growing, inspiring, kind and creative community of like-minded creatives doing what they love. My Instagram is turning into a home for all things independent, handmade and creative and I love it. It's inspired me beyond belief and I can't wait to explore the products and pieces on offer from so many small businesses and creatives this festive season and this post is a call to action urging you all to do the same and shop small and independent this Christmas.

The thought and care taken to produce some of the pieces on offer by the creative community far exceeds that of some bigger chains and mass produced gifts. That's not to say we shouldn't shop mainstream obviously, but a lot of people miss a trick when it comes to gift-buying by not knowing or simply ignoring/discounting the smaller grass roots makers out there.

So, this Christmas, shop Etsy, shop markets, shop craft fairs and start to open your minds and the minds of loved ones by exploring further for your gifts, trinkets and treats.
To start the ball rolling, I have compiled a number of sellers that I've encountered on Instagram and Etsy that I know work incredibly hard and deserve some love and sales. They all create such brilliant, relatable, quality pieces whatever their niche may be.

First up I'm shouting out to two very good friends who sell their makes on Etsy who are two long time creators whose talents know no bounds.

LetsGoFlyAKyte is an Etsy store developed by my good friend Jo to exhibit and sell her incredible hand-made jewellery. Jo lends her hand to many creative bits and bobs and is incredibly talented at whatever crafty endeavour she sets out to make. Gorgeous, trendy, quirky and unique pieces, fab quality.




JadeBreanneBridal is an online store developed by a close friend who is a genius where dress-making and textiles are concerned. A talented wedding and event dressmaker and seamstress with a side-line in bridal accessories made by hand. Check out her Instagram.








Next up are a bunch of creatives who have caught my eye on Instagram over the last couple of weeks:


DorkfaceBlog is an online blogger and illustrator with a range of products from cute art prints to stationary and is super supportive with other creatives, always engaging and inspiring posts. Check her out on Instagram.





MonsterfulMama is another illustrator who sells her amazing products online and also supports and engages a lot with other creatives. Her ghosty illustrations are the cutest! Check out her Instagram.




KellyLouIllustration is a brilliantly talented illustrator who again has been championing other creatives and her products are awesome. Lots of quirky but cute gifts and a particular penchant for Harry Potter related makes! Check out her Instagram.




Candy Doll Club is a shop by creative Jade Boylan who I recently discovered on Instagram. She creates cool as hell, quirky and sassy products and hails from the Isle of Man, a place I have a soft spot for as it's the home of one of my besties.





Rate Cute Resin is a shop specialising in handmade jewellery. Lots of rate cute pastels and glitters making up unique jewellery pieces. Rate Cute also support and engage with other creatives and have other ventures, all accessible on their shop and Instagram.





Katnipp is a business based around illustrations created by Catherine Kay, a super talented illustrator and Youtuber who I recently got into watching and who helped inspire my love for digital illustration. She seems like THE friendliest person in the world and her business seems to be thriving but her products are lush so it's really no surprise. Check out her Instagram and YouTube.




DaisyChainMakes is a creator of crochet homeware, jewellery and gift goodies. These creations are adorable and I will be keeping my eye on Instagram to see what takes my fancy over this festive period. The festive decorations are the cutest!



The Squirrel Collective is another crochet creator who makes a range of cute products, homeware, clothing and gifts. These products are lovely and she is another big supporter of creatives who regularly engages and shares findings on Instagram.






I also recently came across the Just a Card campaign which aims to encourage buyers to purchase from small sellers and independents in the field of art, design, illustration and other crafty creators. Their aim, much like this blog post is to keep the love for independent creators alive and to encourage people to share and engage with independent creators. And also to encourage people to appreciate the time, effort and resources put into creating their products. Check out their website and Instagram to see more of what they do and get involved.



And last but not least, a shameless plug of my own endeavour, an online store alongside moreth4nwords selling art prints, greetings cards and other gifts. It's something I really enjoy doing and I'm totally open to commissions and bespoke ideas if they are in my remit of creation as a bit of a beginner. Please check out my store, Instagram, Facebook page and share, like and follow if you can. Email also provided for enquiries. (gaffer@moreth4nwords.com)






So there we have it folks, a range of awesome creators, for life not just Christmas. Check them out, shop small and support your local creatives!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Expanding MoreTh4nWords


I’ve had my blog for nearly 8 years and have loved creating online content for it, in fact it is often my happy place. Of late, I’ve found myself naturally expanding my content as I’ve taken up digital illustration as a hobby which, like blogging, has been something I’ve found a lot of solace in and has become my go-to task for zoning out and expressing myself.
Due to how much I love creating content for both my blog and my digital illustration portfolio, I’ve recently expanded and set up specific Instagram and Facebook pages for MoreTh4nWords content and a brand new Etsy shop where people can purchase some of the things I’ve created.
Please share, like, follow and check out my shop for any gift ideas with Christmas coming up and feel free to get in touch with me for bespoke commission enquiries via: gaffer@moreth4nwords.com.

Etsy 

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Entering the World of Digital Illustration


I have genuinely always been in awe of people who can draw and those who just have a natural artistic flair. I love arts and crafts and all expressions of creativity but have never been lucky enough to have that natural artistic flair. Or so I thought.

During this summer I decided to treat myself big style and splashed out on an Ipad Air and Apple Pencil. I'd never had any form of tablet before and thought purchasing one would help me out with my blog, give me a lighter, more efficient alternative to taking a laptop when I go off on trips and want to watch movies and I also wanted to try my hand at a bit of digital doodling. 

Since buying my Ipad, it's been super useful for all of the above and has definitely proved a worthwhile investment. But one thing that has shocked me, given my lack of natural artistic flair has been how easy I've actually taken to using it for digital art. I bought Procreate and have been playing around on it for no less than a week and it's now my fail-safe happy place. I've found inspiration all around me and have been brimming with ideas for future pieces. I set up a new Instagram for all my work and am even now considering turning it into a bit of a pocket money gainer in the near future. 

The tools and settings available on drawing apps can make haphazard creatives like me feel like they have an expressive talent and it is so good for relaxing, winding down and practising mindfulness. Of late, I've had a lot on my mind, a lot of stresses and a lot to deal with, often taking my brain and my emotions into overdrive. The one thing that has been keeping me grounded and keeping me sane is sitting and experimenting with little creative pieces on my Ipad and it's something I'd honestly recommend to anyone. It gives me the same creative and expressive release as blogging always has (hence why my blog is also my happy place) and I can so easily take it on the go and scribble as and when I please.

The digital art is something I want to expand on and hope to have prints and cards available for purchase soon, with some close friends already commissioning pieces from me. To check out what I do and follow my new journey into the world of digital illustration then please follow my new Instagram account which will specifically be for the promotion and sharing of my blog content and digital doodles. 

A lil low res sneak peek of some of my work^




Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Yesterday Movie Review






























The Beatles are one of our many British national treasures. They won the hearts of the baby boomers, conquered the world, fed Beatlemania, aided in putting Liverpool on the map and left us an entire legacy of hits. But what if they never existed? Or what if they did, but you were the only one on earth who remembered them? Well, whilst The Beatles and their back catalogue have been no strangers to the silver screen, Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle (whose work I love and who I share a birthday with, I'll have you know) have brought the music of The Beatles back to the film forefront with their movie, Yesterday which explores that very idea.

Yesterday explores a world in which, after a power surge, the population's memory of The Beatles is completely erased. Seemingly, the only person to remember and idolise them is Jack Malik, a passionate musician, desperate for a break out of his mundane day to day. Jack is played by Himesh Patel who many people would remember from UK soap opera, EastEnders in which he played Tamwar Masood. I have to add that Tamwar and his partner Nancy, were two of my fave characters so to see him starring in a major film was a treat. The film also stars Lily James and has other appearances from Robert Carlyle, Sarah Lancashire, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, James Corden and Ed Sheeran who should be commended on his ability to poke fun at himself at times in the film.

With his new found knowledge that the world doesn't remember The Beatles (or Coca Cola or Harry Potter for that matter), Jack toys with the idea of passing their songs off as his own. If he can only remember them, that is. The film unfolds this narrative alongside mini strands such as a love interest between Jack and Ellie (Lily James' character) and a friendship/competitive streak between him and Ed Sheeran who plays himself but is somewhat shadowed by Jack in the music stakes.

Himesh performs the songs in the movie and clearly has musical talents which until this role haven't been demonstrated. I genuinely looked up whether or not it was him performing whilst I was still in the cinema because I was so shocked. The music element to the film is one that I loved. Obviously it's built around the songs of The Beatles but music is a key theme throughout and you can tell that Jack's character appreciates music and has good taste from his posters, record collection and the fact he Googles some of his favourites to make sure they too haven't disappeared off the face of the earth.

The film is a light, heart-warming typically British story based around one of our most celebrated groups of pop culture icons. Like all films of its sort, it has some of the cringe, the cheese and the over-sensationalised bits you'd expect but ultimately, it celebrates a bunch of classic anthems, has genuinely funny moments, exhibits a relatively new upcoming British acting talent and above all, makes you smile and be damn happy that a world without The Beatles is not one in which we reside. I loved it and it will definitely be one of those easy going films that I'll watch again and again.


Like The Beatles? Check out my blogs Britannia Rules the (Radio) Waves in which they feature and Solo Travelling - Living My Best Life in Liverpool where I explored their hometown and old stomping grounds.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Yorkshire Day 2019 | An Ode to Yorkshire

On Yorkshire Day, a little creative writing piece to pay homage to all that makes this glorious county that some of us are lucky enough to call home...



"Eee bah gum" she said, "isn't it a lovely feeling, being from that Yorkshire?"
There are many things to make us proud of God's own county, that's for sure.

The beautiful landscapes and coastlines up there in Scarborough, Brid and Whitby,
The Tour De Yorkshire flying past in as much times as it takes to say "si thi."

So much heritage and history and all those crucial industries,
Mining and waterways, steel, textiles and all the best breweries.

A recognisable dialect that unearths our home soil:
"Ow do, young bairn, put wood in't oyle."

The puddings, the rhubarb, Wensleydale cheese and parkin,
The liquorice, Henderson's Relish and while you're at it, get the Yorkshire Tea mashin'.

Museums a plenty with media, mining, Armories and railway,
Not forgetting Eden Camp, Eureka! and the Thackray.

Sheffield, York, Bradford, Hull and Leeds,
A city for each and all of your needs.

Cosmopolitan hubs full of business, finance, media and culture
Places decorated with Hockney's art and Hepworth and Moore sculptures.

From gothic, medieval, Viking and Roman
The castles and ruins will leave you unspoken.

And our musical talents, sure enough would make you gulp
Def Leppard, Arctic Monkeys, The Beautiful South and Pulp.

Everyone knows with Yorkshire, what you see is what you get.
Weather doesn't do much for us though, so prepare to get wet.

Yorkshire looks lovely when captured on the big and little screen
Full Monty, Emmerdale, Heartbeat and all that's in between.

Our little county offers a lot to see and do
Lots to take in while sipping your lovely brew.

So come and visit us, for we'll not bite
And we're not coming South, we're just too tight!






Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Lion King 2019 Review






Like many 90s born kids, one of my favourite ever films growing up was the Lion King. It was one of our most over-played and excessively worn VHS tapes alongside Matilda and The Jungle Book. It tugged on everyone's heartstrings and gave us some of our best loved Disney characters and soundtracks, soundtracks that we knew every single word to and still do. The 1994 version was undoubtedly a classic that has stood the test of time. And so, like many, I was initially apprehensive about a re-make, particularly when the sequels and go-between films weren't particularly memorable. 

However, Disney have upped the ante where re-makes are concerned in recent years and have already given some of our much-loved classics a revamp, successfully. Alice in Wonderland for one, seemed to garner massive popularity and although it's subjective and a matter of personal preference, I am a big fan of their other re-makes such as The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and although not explicitly a re-make, Mary Poppins Returns. All of these were my childhood favourites and so that provides a fair assessment of their standing.

Obviously Disney have been at the height of discussion recently after having cast for their Little Mermaid remake (on which I currently have no opinion and shall reserve judgement until having seen it) but all of the above films had also been widely discussed and scrutinised before their release. And honestly, whilst it's quite easy to get deep and analytical about Disney movies, these films still provide such entertainment and pleasure for audiences. So, with all that in mind, off I popped to see the Lion King 2019 re-make.

The usual jubilation surged as the castle intro began and the sparkly logo appeared and straight after, just like the original, the Circle of Life began. This opening straight away seemed identical to the 1994 version and then on in, much of the film was too. Which in one respect is brilliant because if too much had altered, it really would have faced scrutiny and it would lose the nostalgic aspect which is what we all buy into in the first place. I think the photo-realistic technology is fascinating, much like when I watched Jungle Book, also directed by Jon Favreau, I was in awe of that. But whilst it is fascinating, there were points about it that I disliked, which I'll touch on later.

From a casting point of view, I think it was good and I think the voices fit perfectly with the characters and particularly loved that James Earl Jones reprised his role. I think Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner did Timon and Pumbaa really well also and provided some of the personality we know and love from the first. I was also happy that all the well-known songs were included. But, I wasn't really a fan of the alteration of Be Prepared which was one of my faves from the original but, you win some, you lose some.

One thing I thought about after having watched it was that the characters possibly had less character this time round. This could purely be because we have the original so well-etched into our minds but I think that the photo-realistic imaging, whilst fascinating, takes that over-exaggerated caricature element away and so makes the characters much less expressive.  I also think some of the cast of the original were just so perfect for those characters such as Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons and Rowan Atkinson. For those reasons, I think it lacked some of what the original had, but at the same time it's rarely known that a re-make would be better than the original anyway.

Overall, the 2019 Lion King satisfied a deeply nostalgic itch and provided positives and negatives, which are hard to put into perspective when the original is so iconic and moulded into our brains. It's definitely worth a watch if you're a fan but as most would predict, nothing will ever beat the 90s version. 



Saturday, 20 July 2019

National Video Game Museum - Sheffield

The National Videogame Museum - Sheffield


If you're a sucker for a museum, an absorber of popular culture and have grown up loving video games or having at least one or two firm favourites from your youth (Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 and Tekken, if anyone wondered) then you will love the National Videogame Museum in South Yorkshire. 

The NVM is a relatively new addition to Sheffield as it recently relocated from its original home in Nottingham. Based on Angel Street in the city centre, the museum is home to a range of different video gaming set-ups based around particular themes such as 'gravity and 'made in Sheffield', to name but two. It also houses some of the world's best loved video games from the industry's beginnings through to our modern day and all of these are completely free to play once you have paid for your admission.

There are old school consoles and games, newer consoles and games, arcade machines, multi-player set-ups, differing editions of particular games such as Super Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong. There are also displays of familiar gaming memorabilia and artefacts from over the years.
The museum also has a lab area where you can test out a number of design, creation and development facilities and there is also a café and gift shop on site too.

Admission to the museum *costs £11 per adult, £9 per child or £35 for a family of four and after that, you can come and go as much as you please throughout the day with your wristband and can play on all the games for free. At the moment there is also a Groupon** deal on the museum with a significant discount on tickets on certain dates so be sure to check that out should you wish to visit soon. It is super easy to find from the train station and no more than a 10 minute walk, if that. The museum is *open Friday, Saturday and Sunday but all week during school holiday periods.

*At time of posting, please check out the NVM website for most up-to-date pricing and opening hours
** Limited time remaining Groupon offer, check availability

I recently took my 11 year old brother as a birthday treat and we both loved it and totally lost track of time, playing on every game there was to offer and snapping pics with the huge Sonic. Our favourites in the NVM were the Sonic set-ups, (particularly the original), the Street Fighter arcade machine, classics like Tetris and Space Invaders and a funny little snowball game that I've totally forgotten the name of but it had us giggling our faces off, trying to pelt each other's player with pixelated snowballs.
It's definitely worth a visit and I only hope that it can build more funding to expand further, acquiring more games and more artefacts as although me and my brother absolutely loved it, we both saw it as more of an arcade than a museum. Would love to see more of the history, info and timelines of video games, how they've adapted and developed and how our relationship with them is altering. 
But still, a proper little gem in the heart of Sheffield, go forth and check it out!








Thursday, 18 July 2019

Stranger Things 3: The Most Bitchin' Yet?


Before I proceed on to analyse* Stranger Things season 3, I must point out that this post will quite obviously be absolutely riddled with spoilers and so anyone yet to watch it put everything on hold and get round to it ASAP do not read on or it will be significantly ruined.

*And just as a disclaimer, I'm not an expert, I don't know every single reference or every fact about the show, I'm merely discussing it with my opinion, conversations I've had with fellow viewers and things I've read, in mind.






With any TV show fortunate or successful enough to make it through several seasons, there's often no beating season 1. At that point, the producers have probably spent quite some time making it happen and might not have even considered the possibility of an ongoing run. The first season of Stranger Things was for me, a 'watch the whole damn thing in one day' kind of thing. From episode one I was hooked and as a Media teacher, a lot of that came from the abundance of intertextual references and the fact that it was full of likeable characters and was suspenseful enough to keep you hooked but not keep you fully awake at night. After watching that first season in one entire Saturday, I couldn't wait for the next instalment. Season 2 satisfied that itch but other than the introduction of Max, Billy, Bob and the discovery of Eleven's counterpart, for me personally, it wasn't too much to write home about. Number 3 however, I found to be on par if not better than season 1 and here are just a few of the reasons why:

Development of Erica and introduction of Robin and Alexei.

If there's one thing Stranger Things nails, it's introducing us to characters we grow to love. In season one, we are introduced to the quirkiest little gang of kids that we've ended up rooting for in every possible way. We've also acquired a strange affinity for Hopper and even though Joyce is batshit for the majority of the prior seasons (understandably, mind), we love her too. 
In season 3, The Duffer Brothers once again nail the character development. In the first instance, Lucas' little sister, Erica gets way more screen time and whilst she started out being THE most irritating little brat, throughout season 3, we grow to love her confidence, sass and ability to totally show up people that are years older than her. The instant that Steve and Robin enlist her help in foiling the Russians, her one-liners and strategies floor them and us. After all, "ya can't spell America, without Erica...nerd!"
Two characters that are new to us in season 3 are Robin and Alexei. Robin comes across as the typical 80s alternative anti-hero girl, sporting the multiple choker/bracelet combo, haven't slept in years dark eye, beachy bob and the most finely honed sarcastic comebacks and RBF we could wish for. I love Robin because of all of that and her natural ability to ground Steve somewhat. Whilst her and Steve could have been the best match and it looked to be heading that way, I love the twist in the tale that her character never actually succumbed to Steve's charms unlike so many of the girls in Hawkins, because in actual fact, she's attracted to girls! Very excited to see if Robin will be a part of season 4 and if so, how her and Steve's friendship will develop.
And last but not least on the newly popularised character list, Alexei. It's incredible how a character that started out as an indirect baddie, ends up being so well-liked but the internet seems to have gone mad for Alexei, mockingly named Smirnoff by Hopper during their adventures. I think the affinity for Alexei came through his love for cherry slushies, his ability to rile Hopper, his amusing Russian exchanges with Murray and those content little facial expressions every now and then. But alas, Alexei's fate meant that he was quite possibly this season's Barb.

El finding her identity.

Whilst an obvious consideration is that by the final episode, a major part of Eleven's character is in question, luckily throughout the season, we see her develop her identity and express herself in a number of new ways. Her grasp of the English language has developed throughout all 3 seasons and therefore in season 3, she is way more expressive and articulate, although still adding to her vocab, with the help of her peers. Due to her upbringing or lack of, Eleven, although unique in obvious ways seems to mould to and adapt to her closest peers, evidently Hopper and Mike. In this season, we see her develop a new friendship with Max, a close female bond that she evidently needed in order to grow as a female teen. Max and Eleven's newly found friendship enables El to stand up to Hopper and Mike and see things differently, not to mention that ever so typical 80s makeover. Which brings me onto my next point, not only do we see Eleven express herself more with language and attitude but also aesthetically. As a huge fan of shopping, 80s films and Madonna, I totally lived for that makeover scene. Every outfit in the montage and there on in was absolute fire. The garish patterns, the braces, the scrunchies, the turn-ups.
Here.
For.
It!

Totally bodacious soundtrack.

So whilst this could easily be pointed out in every season so far, there were so many bangers featured in season 3 that I've been listening to playlists from it on Spotify ever since. An obvious mention from the point above was the inclusion of Madonna's Material Girl over the makeover montage. But other particular favourites were Foreigner's Cold as Ice, Can't Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon, and Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms. Not to mention the genius decision to include Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again as we realise the haunting enormity of the whole mind-flaying situation.


Great Scott! That Facehugger's one clever girl!

In my opinion, Stranger Things would not be what it is without its perfectly nostalgic intertextual 80s references and it does them so damn well. The sheer amount of nods included in every episode, let alone season is quite frankly, seismic. The concept of a group of kids adventuring against creatures in itself is the whole premise of so many 80s films and the internet is full of articles pinpointing all the little references we sometimes don't even notice. Season 3 contained tonnes but a few of these are my favourite yet. The way that the Mind Flayer often replicates the actions of Facehugger from Alien, the fact that Back to the Future was the hit movie that the scoop troop sneaked into after escaping the Russians (I particularly enjoyed Steve and Robin trying to make sense of it whilst high as a kite). And last but certainly not least, the nods to my favourite film of all time, let alone the 80s, Jurassic Park. Two things in particular were reminiscent of Jurassic Park, firstly the fact that scientists were playing god with dangerous creatures and chemicals in hidden labs and secondly, the kids hiding from the Mind Flayer behind a unit in a very 'Lex and Tim in the kitchen' kinda way.

Steve.

Steve 'The Hair' Harrington seemed to grow on everyone after he and Nancy split and he became instrumental in helping the gang defeat the creatures of the Upside Down. Both his big brother style bromance with Dustin and his friendship this season with Robin have grounded him somewhat and dampened some of that ego a little. He has become much more likeable throughout and much like most female occupants of Hawkins, I too have succumbed to the Harrington charm. Especially when he and Robin have been drugged by the Russians as their mischief was so contagious. Now a firm favourite of the gang, for me.

The multi-strand, episodic narrative.

Again, only the dorky Media teacher in me would spot these things but I loved the way the narrative played out with each character or set of characters seemingly on their own little quests that consequently became linked as we progressed through the episodes. At the beginning, I did wonder exactly how all of these events would link up and why everyone seemed so stand-alone in their escapades. I think this played out perfectly and it also allowed us to see the development of characters and the development of relationships between characters really well too.

Dustin's bromance and romance.

As aforementioned, Dustin's bromance with Steve is 100% friendship goals and is something we've seen slowly grow over the seasons. In this season in particular, Dustin and Steve seem to be closer than Dustin and the gang as it's Steve that Dustin turns to when the others seem a little disinterested by his return. I love the fact they are now basically brothers from another mother.
Similarly, Dustin gets his own little romance this season, albeit one that seems fictional for the most part but after that total waste of valuable time pivotal moment during the battle, we see that Suzie is in fact real and that she and Dusty Bun have bonded to rather embarrassing levels with their own theme song in the form of A Neverending Storyyyyyyyyyyyy.

The end scene that tells us it'll definitely be back.

The very end scene not only gave us solid confirmation that Stranger Things 4 will happen but also gave us clues as to what might happen. Now everyone is debating just who 'the American' could be with theories suggesting Hopper, the original Doctor from the lab and Barb amongst others. I have no clue who it could be. On one hand, I'd love Hopper to re-appear but at the same time think he's not submissive enough to have been held hostage. 
Things I do hope will happen though are: The Byers' still being key characters despite moving, Eleven getting her powers back, Nancy winning her fight against the sexist egomaniac journalists of the world, Erica being a forefront character again, Robin and Steve's friendship developing and more scenes involving the two of them and more incredibly satisfying iconic 80s references.

And finally, the fact that it seemed way more brutal this time round!