Phone Box Thursday: Dreams of Dressing Up

Another holding post while I continue my Doctor Who phone box hunt. This distorted-looking phone box will regain its proper shape once it’s out of the wardrobe…

Red phone box
Red phone box… on a fashion garment.

It’s part of the design of my ‘Oh London!’ skirt (shown here as part of my outfit for New Year’s Day 2019). I haven’t worn it – or any skirt, come to think of it – for well over a year.

I’m not sure how ‘dressed up’ I will get for post-pandemic events, because at the moment, after a year of leggings and loungewear, the idea of wearing clothes like that seems a bit alien and terrifying. Still, I do love my phone box skirt, so hopefully in the future it will be allowed out from the wardrobe again.

Playlist Creation: Five Favourite Videogame Soundtrack Tunes

As I discussed last week, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way recently, so I surprised myself a bit last night when I found myself on Spotify, working on my playlists again. I have probably 50-odd playlists on Spotify as my music taste is fairly eclectic, but I hadn’t realised I’d never put together a videogame soundtrack playlist before (other than a specific one for Monkey Island soundtracks). Videogame soundtracks feature frequently on my earworm playlists, as both Geth and I play a lot of videogames and the music is often very catchy, so it’s about time I start collecting my favourites together!

I started this process last night, but it’ll be a little more involved than most Spotify playlist creation processes as most of my favourite videogame soundtracks aren’t on Spotify. As such, I’ll have to track them down separately and store them in my local files in order to put the playlist together. This could be a bit of a long project as a result, but it’d be a great playlist to have, so I will persevere.

I have a lot of favourites, but here are five special tunes that have soundtracked my gaming life (and my life in general as a result).

‘Candion’ (Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare ’95, 1995)

An unseasonal Christmas example to start off with! Having spent about five years obsessively playing PC platformers – starting with Hunchy on the BBC Micro when I was very young and still spectacularly bad at videogames, then moving onto early ’90s offerings such as Jason Storm (I first played it on a black and white screen!), Word Rescue and Hocus Pocus – I spent pretty much all of 1994 and 1995 playing Jazz Jackrabbit, a Sonic-a-like for the PC. Every single one of the soundtrack tunes for the game’s thirty-odd levels brings back so many memories, but it’s this gorgeous MIDI rendition of ‘Carol Of The Bells’ from the game’s second set of Christmas-themed levels that stands out most for me.

‘Type A’ (Tetris, 1989)

I didn’t get a Nintendo Game Boy until 1997, a good eight years after the system had first come out. My younger brother Malcolm was fairly console-obsessed and spent most of the first half of the ’90s unsuccessfully pestering my parents for a Game Boy and/or a Sega Mega Drive. We were both keen viewers of GamesMaster on Channel 4 at the time, and one of my main memories of it is the constant background refrain of ‘ohhh I wish I could play that…’ Of course, having watched the episodes again on YouTube with Geth in more recent years and realising how eye-watering the prices were for consoles and videogames at the time – £50 for a single game in 1993! That’s £105 in today’s money! – I now understand why my brother’s requests fell on deaf ears! I, on the other hand, was perfectly happy gaming on the PC – that is, until I went on a school trip to France in 1997 and had the opportunity to borrow my friend Fiona’s Game Boy during the long boring hours spent on the coach. Realising the usefulness of portability (Mum and Dad were/are keen travellers and so I spent a lot of my life in the backseat of a car at that point), I requested one for Christmas that year. The prices may have been more wallet-friendly by then, as I got my Game Boy – and so did Malcolm, who wasn’t about to miss out on his long-awaited handheld system now that his big sister was getting one.

I had a few games for the system, including, of course, Tetris, which I believe was bundled with every Game Boy ever sold. I always appreciated the fact that you could choose from a selection of background music, something I don’t remember seeing in any other game of any era (I’m sure other examples exist but I’ve not come across them personally!). While I remember preferring the slightly classical-sounding ‘Type C’ when I was playing the game back in the ’90s, it’s the iconic ‘Type A’ that has seared itself into my brain for the rest of eternity.

Addendum: I can’t talk about the Tetris music without linking to the amazing ‘Russian history’ version!

‘The Swamp’ (Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, 1991)

However, on the odd occasion that I wasn’t in the backseat of a car, the second half of the ’90s (and all of the ’00s… and to some extent the ’10s and ’20s and presumably every decade for the rest of my life) were all about LucasArts graphical adventure games. In 1997 (clearly a big year in gaming for us), Malcolm bought a magazine with a demo for The Curse Of Monkey Island, sending us both down an adventure game rabbithole from which I have yet to emerge nearly quarter of a century later. I’ve played many, many classics from the ’80s and ’90s, as well as a lot of great adventure games that have been made in more modern times, but the Monkey Island series will always be the greatest in my eyes. The soundtracks – an inspired blend of Caribbean reggae and more traditional ‘pirate’ genres such as English hornpipe, composed by Michael Land – are so brilliant that I have a whole separate playlist for them, as mentioned above, so it’s hard to pick a favourite track. However, the one that I think I’ve always loved the most is ‘The Swamp’, a spooky epic from the second entry in the series. It’s like a thousand memories in one.

‘It’s Detective Gumshoe, Pal!’ (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, 2001)

I’m generally a late adopter of console and handheld systems. In my case it’s because I have such a backlog of old games that I don’t mind waiting a while to play the new ones (exceptions over the last year have included Paper Mario: The Origami King as I bought into the hype, Beyond A Steel Sky as I’d been excited about it for years, and Bravely Default II (arriving Friday! so excited!) as the previous entries were my favourite 3DS games ever. Geth is the same, which has probably been for the best this last year; I think we would have been inordinately stressed if we’d tried to partake in the PS5 / XBOX Series X launch palaver. I’d still like to get one or the other, but I’m happy to wait for a couple of years!

As such, I only got my first 3DS* in early 2014, three years after it had come out. Geth and I had been avid Wii gamers since the turn of the decade, but the Wii seemed like it was dying a death, as the official Nintendo magazine focused more and more on 3DS games. These 3DS games sounded REALLY good, and so I bought my 3DS for my 29th birthday. It was my first handheld since the Game Boy Colour (something I still almost regret buying** as I never actually bought any games for it, just used it to make my old Game Boy games look slightly more colourful. I only bought one because Malcolm spent the entirety of our 1999 summer holiday in France trying to find an affordable one in the supermarkets, and by the end of the holiday I wanted one too. Don’t buy into the hype!).

I love the 3DS and still play it a lot, even though I’ve got a Switch Lite too now. The system has provided what are now some of my favourite games of all time, such as the first two Bravely games, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and of course the brilliant Ace Attorney series, which was my first introduction to Japanese visual novel-style adventure gaming.

The Ace Attorney soundtracks are fantastic. The games were originally released in the early ’00s in Japan before being upgraded for worldwide release on the 3DS a decade later, and so the music is still very MIDI-sounding and retro. All the tracks are great, but my favourite is the character theme for Dick Gumshoe. (He’s not my favourite character but he has far and away the best music!)

*I’m now on my second. My first one died bravely in battle (like, literally in the middle of a Bravely Default battle) in 2016. That was a bad day.

**Almost, but not quite. Due to the vagaries of cartridge decay, my copy of Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land now refuses to play on my Game Boy, but plays perfectly on my Game Boy Colour. My Game Boy is still fine with my other cartridges, so it’s just one of those technical mysteries!

‘Leaving Earth’ (Mass Effect 3, 2012)

Around the same time as I was enjoying the Ace Attorney games for the first time, I finally got round to playing the Mass Effect series.

I mentioned earlier in this post that Geth and I are late console adopters, but we’re not as bad as we used to be. Back in the early ’10s, we waited a whole console generation so that we could pick up an XBOX 360 for cheap when the XBOX One came out in 2013. As such, we didn’t own the Mass Effect games until then, and though I watched Geth doing a couple of playthroughs in 2014, I didn’t get round to playing them myself until the following summer.

Mass Effect was a huge and important gaming experience for me. It was what inspired me to start running (because I watched Commander Shepard running around the universe and thought ‘I’d like to be able to run forever, too’). It shifted my expectations and perceived baselines around videogames, and has become a major comparison point for me when I’m evaluating new ones. Unlike the other games on this list, however, I wouldn’t say that the Mass Effect soundtrack is uniformly brilliant or even that memorable. It’s one particular track – ‘Leaving Earth’ from Mass Effect 3 – that stands out so much that it will always be one of my all-time favourites.

I always find it lovely that ‘Leaving Earth’ – along with many other soundtrack classics – was composed by Clint Mansell, who in the late ’80s and early ’90s was in Pop Will Eat Itself, one of the greebo bands loved by a teenage Geth back in the day. Greebo and epic soundtracks are worlds apart to me, but maybe not as much as I think!

In closer-to-home musical news: the Zoom band night I was attending on Wednesdays has come to an end for now 🙁 However, I intend to keep doing a bit of ukulele practice at the same time every Wednesday so that I don’t get out of the habit again. Maybe I’ll start learning some of my favourite videogame soundtracks on ukulele!

More musical thoughts next week.

Booze Alternative: Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling Rosé

Along with the white version of Fizzero, I also picked up the rosé version from M&S.

I’m really pleased that so many alcohol-free wines have rosé versions because rosé was always my favourite type of wine when I still drank alcohol. I find non-alcoholic still wines uncomfortable to drink* because they ‘feel’ too much like their alcoholic counterparts, but I’ve really come to love the sparkling versions, as I’m able to perform that mental separation and so they don’t put me at risk of wanting ‘real’ wine.

Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling Rosé
Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling Rosé.

The Fizzero version, like its white counterpart, tastes very grape-y – a bit like grape juice. The rose flavour is a bit too subtle for my liking, but it is there. Another nice light alternative for summer.

*They’re great for cooking though!

‘Race’ Review: Lonely Goat 5k Virtual Challenge 2020

One of the many types of virtual challenges that have sprung up during the course of the last year is a medal challenge with the option to pick a (standard) distance and date and just go for it. There are many companies online that offer this kind of flexible challenge to help with motivation during the long wait for races to return, including my running club, Lonely Goat RC, who are the biggest affiliated running club in the UK due to being based online. They started offering the option to sign up to virtual challenges in autumn 2020, but with so many other virtuals on my schedule at the time, I didn’t end up signing up to one of their challenges until December – a time when I really needed a bit of motivation to get out the door.

5k is usually a distance that I run or surpass two or three times a week, but during November, I didn’t manage the distance at all. I had overtrained slightly for the Virtual GNR and Virtual London, and I found that my body needed a break. Prior to starting my daily running streak, I would usually find that I had a ‘winter running slump’ every year where I didn’t run at all for three to six weeks. This period from late October to mid-December 2020 was my equivalent this winter, although I did run at least a mile every day to keep the streak going!

As such, signing up to do a 5k on 27th December felt like an actual challenge! The roads were clear that morning (a rarity this winter) so I was able to go out and run my usual 5k route. I was fairly happy with my time too, considering my running had taken a back seat for a couple of months.

A few days later, the medal arrived. Bling is one of the things I miss most about races, and also one of the main reasons I’ve been doing virtuals to tide me over:

Lonely Goat 5k medal

It’s a really hefty, weighty medal, well worth the cost! (You can sign up to Lonely Goat challenges for free and pay for a medal as an optional extra.)

They’ve slightly redesigned the medal and ribbon for 2021, so I will be having another crack at a Lonely Goat Virtual Challenge later this year. Distance to be announced at a later date…

Saturday ’80s Photo: Vintage Sticky Notes

When I organised my 2021 wall planner the other week, I took up Geth’s suggestion of using sticky notes for scheduled events so that they could be easily moved around if postponed for COVID-19 reasons.

I have apparently not used sticky notes for a very long time. This is the back of my sticky note pad:

Vintage sticky notes

The pad dates from a time when 0582 numbers were in use for the Luton area – it’s been 01582 since 1995, so the notepad is early ’90s at the latest, though I suspect it’s probably more like late ’80s judging by the font and style used. It was presumably a bottom-of-the-drawer find when I was a kid!

More vintage stylings next week.

Is it too early for a midlife crisis?

I didn’t mind being thirty-five. Not at all.

I was still coasting along with an ‘age doesn’t matter’ attitude, and generally feeling like I was still young and pretty much at the start of my life and there was still plenty of time to achieve all my planned achievements.

Being thirty-six feels different, and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it’s just that multiple things have hit me in a slightly alarming way recently. First of all, I did a fairly major accounting exercise for my business in January and realised that I can’t just blame the recent slump in takings on COVID-19 (though of course the pandemic has been a factor): it started way before that. I’ve known for some time now that my editing business is not viable by itself as my long-term career. I either need to build up something else on the side (I hoped writing would play this role, but I’m still not making any money from my writing projects) or retrain so that I can move full-time into something else. I had two academic options planned out for retraining at the beginning of 2020, but the pandemic put them on hold. If life had continued as normal, I would have been a lot further ahead with those options right now, and so I really feel at the moment as though I’m paused (not by choice) in my career, and that a considerable amount of time is being wasted while I wait for the world to restart. I’m sure lots of other people are in a similar position.

Secondly, I’ve been struggling with the loud, insistent tick of the biological clock in recent weeks. I have always known that motherhood would not be right for me or my life, and so I have never planned (and still do not plan) to have children. Still, however logical and sound my 1,001 reasons for staying childfree are, there are times when I feel them drowning under the weight of worries like ‘thirty-six is VERY close to forty; you are running out of time to change your mind’ and ‘who is going to inherit your legacy, your family heirlooms and your videogame collection?’ and ‘don’t you WANT to experience this unconditional love that everyone talks about?’ and ‘your husband is a few years older than you and you are bad at maintaining friendships due to your introversion; you will quite likely spend the last few years of your life alone and unloved’. I will stick to my plan because I know it’s the right thing to do, but the feelings are hard sometimes.

Accepting the things you can’t change is the sensible and obvious thing to do in life. It’s also really hard work. There are a lot of things I wish were different – a lot of things that I was sure I would have managed to achieve by now – and I constantly feel like I’ve let my past younger self down, and that I’m also letting my future older self down by continuing to fail to achieve stuff (or stuff that was on the ‘list’ anyway… I know there’s a lot of unplanned stuff I can be proud of from over the last few years!), and generally being a bit mediocre.

But the life I have now is the life I have now, and I’m not superhuman (even though the mind demons tell me that I COULD be if I just tried a bit harder), and I know I’m doing my best at the moment, and the fact that I didn’t do my best in the past is something that can’t be changed.

Thirty-six is still not sitting right with me, and I’m not sure when it will. But I can’t go backwards, so here we are.

This week has been quite busy and difficult at work, which hasn’t helped. I’m hoping to be able to squeeze in an extra afternoon off on Monday to make it a bit of a long weekend, but we’ll have to see what happens over the next few days.

I’m very nearly at the end of Bravely Second and should finish it over the weekend. I’ve then got the demo of the newly-announced Switch game Project Triangle Strategy to enjoy before Bravely Default II arrives next week!

Running has been short and gentle this week as I’ve been resting a hip/glute twinge. However, my comfortable run speed has increased over the last couple of days, which usually indicates that my legs are up for a nice fast 5k at the weekend. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow. I’m also hoping to do a long run on Sunday (maybe eight to ten miles?), though the pace for that will be very sedate indeed as I’ve not done anything over six miles for months and months.

Crossing my fingers for a really quiet week next week! I’ve got various coding things I want to get finished/started, so hopefully I’ll have good news on that front next Friday.

Spiky ball
It’s been a spiky ball kind of week, trying to ease the seized-up muscles in my right hip 🙁

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

Backstreet Boys – ‘As Long As You Love Me’
The Drifters – ‘Under The Boardwalk’
Will Powers – ‘Kissing With Confidence’

Sunday

Revo – ‘Sylvan Tranquility’
Ray Charles – ‘Hit The Road, Jack’

Monday

Joe Hisaishi – ‘Kokoro No Kakera’
will.i.am and Cody Wise – ‘It’s My Birthday’
The Black Eyed Peas – ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’
Duran Duran – ‘Five Years’

Tuesday

Canned Heat – ‘On The Road Again’
Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip – ‘I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper’
The Power Station – ‘Some Like It Hot’
Taylor Swift – ’22’

Wednesday

Judy Garland and Lucille Bremer – ‘Meet Me In St Louis’
Tom Lehrer – ‘Christmas Carol’

Thursday

Ewan MacColl – ‘Dirty Old Town’
Fontella Bass – ‘Rescue Me’
Coldplay – ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’
The Wonder Stuff – ‘A Wish Away’

Friday

Mike Hewer – ‘Snowman Party’
Queen – ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’

Phone Box Thursday: Riverside, Padstow

A bit of a historical picture / crossover with Saturday ’80s Photo for today’s phone box! While I’m still hunting for the next phone box example in Doctor Who, I remembered I was going to share this one from the family archives. It’s a phone box that features in the background of a snap from our trip to Cornwall in September 1987.

Red phone box
Red phone box, Riverside, Padstow, 10th September 1987.

It was September 1987, and on this particular day of our Cornish holiday we were visiting the town of Padstow. I don’t have the exact date as photos in our family archive are only labelled by month, but I could probably track it down in the future as Mum has always tended to log things like that in her diaries. EDIT: Mum tells me it was the 10th. Thanks Mum!

The full vista of the photo:

Padstow, September 1987
L-R in foreground: Dad, me, Malcolm (in buggy).

I clearly wasn’t as interested in the phone box as I would be nowadays! The next photo on the roll features a milk van, which is probably even more of a rarity than a red phone box here in 2021, although there’s an interesting article here about their possible resurgence due to the pandemic.

Padstow, September 1987
Bonus milk van!

To my surprise and delight, both the pub and the phone box are still in situ!

(Coordinates 50°54’10.7″N, 4°93’73.2″W.)

The phone box even still has a phone in it as of the most recent Street View image taken in 2018. It looks very well-kept and is maybe maintained by the pub owners as well as the council.

Still hoping to get back to the Who phone boxes next week!

A musical interlude

A slight bit of blog business today. Now that I’m caught up with all my pre-pandemic gig reviews, I’m planning to make Wednesday ‘music day’ on the blog. I’ve not focused on music posts for a while, as I’ve not been focusing on music so much in my everyday life, for a couple of reasons. First of all, gigs are obviously on the back burner for now. Secondly, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way during the last year – I’ve been finding I concentrate on work better when it’s quiet, and when I’m out for a walk with headphones I prefer to listen to podcasts. When I do put music on (largely at the request of Geth when he wants some background music), it’s always an old standby like ’80s pop or synthwave or videogame soundtracks – it’s been a long time since I’ve deliberately listened to an album or sought out new music.

It’s been about eighteen months since I wrote my last New Hits Friday post, because I’ve not been keeping up with the chart for the last year (most chart music is not to my taste so I was starting to find it a bit of a chore, though I will go back and catch up because I still find the chart really interesting academically). I’m a few Now! albums behind, and other than the usual Christmas shows, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the music channels. It’s just not been a focus for the last year and a bit; there have been other things going on.

However, I would like to get back into the habit of focused music listening, which is why I’m going to be setting aside Wednesday blog posts for related content. This could take many forms – reviews, features, general ramblings – as I want to keep the scope quite broad. I expect that at first, I’ll mostly be focusing on music topics I already know about, but there’s always the potential to learn something new. Sometimes on ukulele!

Ocarina
Ocarina out of time. Mum and Dad passed this on to me a couple of Christmases ago but I haven’t had much chance to pick it up yet. One day 🙂

2019 Pizzas #28: Nkd Pizza Garden Party

You might notice we’ve skipped #27. It’s another pizza that’s missing a picture! Thankfully it’s one that I will almost certainly have again, so I’ll catch up with the log at some point.

We’re into the last few days of 2019 now, and today’s entry is a pizza that I had during a boardgaming break when spending time with friends in Edinburgh. On this occasion we ordered from Nkd Pizza in Morningside, which has since unfortunately closed down.

Nkd Pizza
Nkd Pizza Garden Party… or the empty box after the eating, at any rate.

I’m glad I did get to sample this pizza while the Edinburgh branches were still open. (Most remaining branches appear to be in the ‘southern north’* of England – there’s apparently a branch in Burnley of all places, so I may be able to sample this pizza again next time I’m visiting the in-laws in Colne!)

The pizza was just the right size, which is more difficult to get right than it sounds. Too-big pizzas usually result in overeating on my part because I don’t see the point in saving the rest for next-day reheating when there’s only a slice or two left. Too-small pizzas, on the other hand, are unsatisfying. This one was perfect… for my particular appetite on that day, at any rate! It was really tasty too.

*A term that perhaps only makes sense if you live in north-east England or Cumbria. The endlessly interesting thing I have learnt from my nearly ten years of living in England (at the two extremes of the country) is that English people generally consider ‘the north’ to be everything north of where they are and ‘the south’ to be everything south of where they are. Growing up, I was often told by my Lancastrian relatives that southerners erroneously considered ‘the north’ to be anything north of Watford; when I lived in Southampton, I was fascinated to find that the opposite was also true, i.e. that northerners erroneously considered ‘the south’ to be anything south of Sheffield. As a result, the entire swathe of England between Watford and Sheffield falls into what I call ‘Schrodinger’s England’: simultaneously north and south at the same time.