Of Musings and Wonderings











{October 22, 2012}   Exploring My Sweet Tooth

I have a very sweet tooth. I always have done – it didn’t help that we lived opposite a 24 hour garage growing up (which has now shut up shop), meaning that either I or my brothers would often be sent over to pick up a chocolate bar for Dad. He’d always chuck us an extra quid or two, telling us to get something for ourselves. At Christmas, my dad buys a huge amount of chocolate, and there’s usually (now, anyway) a fair amount left by Easter. As well as that, I can never resist a good cake – my aunt (Dad’s sister), grandparents (both sides) and uncle (Dad’s brother) all bake, and there was never an end to the Jam Tarts and Sponge cakes coming into this house when I was a kid.

Which makes me super excited by the fact that I have been nominated, by the lovely Zen Scribbes, for the Super Sweet Blog Award. It’s my first nomination for anything like this, and I feel like I can’t thank Zen enough. As I was reading her post, I was thinking of what my own answers would be, and to my surprise, there I was, tagged. A real honour – it kind of feels like acceptance, no? Anyway, here’s my answers!

1. Cookies or Cake?

Milly’s Cookie Cake? Or is that not allowed? In all seriousness, my instant reaction to this was just cake. There’s so many different kinds, and there’s nothing like a sponge cake on a birthday, or chocolate cake after Christmas lunch, or Welsh Cakes while watching Eastenders. Also, I had a lot of fun introducing my friends in England to Welsh Cakes, and I think there does tend to be this cultural difference in cakes too, whereas I haven’t seen that much difference in cookies from one place to another. Cakes are just more interesting.

2. Chocolate or Vanilla?

Chocolate! Nothing like Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. Or a nice bar of Galaxy when I’m flagging in work. I’m 22, and my dad still buys me Kinder Eggs for the Christmas stash I mentioned earlier. I do like vanilla, but I will always choose chocolate over it.

3. What is your favourite sweet treat?

I really have no idea. It really depends what mood I’m in. I tend to stick with chocolate things – I find it difficult to pass by the yoghurt section of any shop, and not because of the yoghurt. They have all the healthy ones right next to the cold chocolate delights, and most of the time they’re on offer. But if I’m in work late, I’ll usually grab a bag of buttons or something on my lunch break, to munch on in the evening when there are no phone calls. I find it difficult picking a favourite anything, really, so I’m going to leave this hanging.

4. When do you crave sweet things most?

Usually, if I’m eating out. I can very rarely resist the deserts section of any menu. I blame it on the fact that as a kid, it was one of those times – outside of family gatherings and Christmas and the like – when we could have something really sweet after food. And it was always different to things you can just buy in the shops.

5. If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?

Dad’s input was ‘All Sorts’ (have you guessed where I inherited my sweet tooth from yet?), but I think that was just the first thing he could think of. I really have no idea…maybe just ‘Sweet Tooth’? Actually…I think that could work. I’ve had the impression from some people that I look slightly innocent (or sweet), so maybe ‘Sweet Tooth’ would fit. As I’m Welsh, it’s not pronounced the same as the English say it. So you’d have to say ‘toof’. Or something similar. I’m not good at dialect. (But I could write a whole blog on the things said differently across the border.)

Tag!

For this, I nominate the following, because they are blogs that I personally love to read –

The Daily Racewood

The Bookshelf of Emily J

Reflections of a Book Addict

M.D. Sanchiz

Odds and book bobs



{October 20, 2012}   Just Around The Corner…

It’s coming. Oh, God, it’s coming. On my way too and from work, I have seen people rushing around to get the shopping done, seen the lights being put up ready to be turned on, but right now, the fear and excitement many writers will be feeling won’t be coming from the approaching holiday season. There is something creeping up on us, much sooner than Christmas. I say creeping, but it’s close now, a little under two weeks away, and with each day that passes, I keep remembering it’s coming and stopping everything I’m doing, as dread fills me. Dread, mixed with a bit of that excitement that causes butterflies that flip-flop in your stomach.

Many people will know by now what it is I’m talking about. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, with November on our doorstep, I am, of course, talking about one thing.

I love NaNoWriMo. To me, it offers a chance to really push yourself as a writer. Few people I know write more than 1,500 words a day, every day. I may, sometimes, do it, but usually that’s jumping from piece to piece, springing from one genre to another to keep myself going. Focusing on one thing for a month can be daunting, but it’s possible. More than possible. The first time I tried it, I was at school doing my A Levels. I spent a large part of October planning, and stopped writing pretty quickly. Lack of time and no interest in the story, I think. (Though the two times this happened, I did end up with a small bit of something I’d like to return to, eventually) When I started Uni, I had no desire to try it again. Daunted by the two fails, and settling into a new city with new friends, I just didn’t think I’d have the time.

November 1st came, and I was struck by an idea. I sat down, and I worked on it. What came out of that ended up spawning two other novels, the first drafts of which are both complete. That was 2009. In 2010, I was wondering whether or not to try again – I didn’t have an idea. I got the spark of one, but no main character came to me and I just couldn’t see a way to make it work. It came near the end of October, and once more I completed it. Last year, I had the idea for months. I stored it and thought about but only put a few words onto paper to keep the idea in my head. I completed it again, though that draft has remained on my computer, untouched and not being read by anyone.

Still, with three ‘successes’ under my belt, you’d think I’d be revved up for it this year. But there’s something hugely different now than the last three years. I’m working. I have a full-time job, and am actually starting in a new department on November 1st. On top of this, November has always been a busy month for me. My birthday is on the 12th, the last three years I’ve gone home the weekend before and usually done something the night of my birthday at Uni, while also celebrating the weekend after. Bonfire night is the week before, and deadlines for Uni fell in the middle of November. But I fell into the habit of doing 2000+ words a day, leaving myself time to do other things without falling too far behind. I don’t think I’ll have time for that this year. I still have my birthday, and Bonfire Night, but now I have work which means between 9 – 5 I won’t be able to write.

But I will try. If I can get in the habit of hitting at least 1000 words after work, and try to make up the rest on the weekends, then I may just scrape by. Or I’ll fall short. Either way, I know I’ll have tried. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel – or struggle to finish one – then I really do recommend you use November – and NaNoWriMo – to push yourself. It’s quantity, not quality, and December is when you can have a look over it and maybe thing about editing. Anyway, for anyone who is interested, here are my NoNoWriMo tips.

1. Plans Are Made To Be Broken

Some people, unlike myself, plan out their novels. They spend ages plotting, and fill pages with character descriptions, detailing every little thing about that character, from their childhood memories to their adult desires. Personally, I can’t do this, it makes me feel too constrained, and I find my characters come to life more if I just write them. Sometimes this means plunging them straight into the events of the novel. Other times I may write a few short stories or scenes, placing the characters in different situations.

Anyway, whatever your style, don’t feel you have to plan. But if you do spend October exploring plot ideas and what makes your character tick, don’t be afraid to throw it all out the window the second week of November if it’s not working. Similarly, if your plan for chapter five is to set it in a wooded area with birds chirping, but you get struck by the idea to set it on the side of the road, do that. Don’t be constrained; November is not the time to be chained to a plot idea, no matter how good it seemed in October.

2. Get A Good Tool

Of course, you could just use Word’s word count to follow your progress, but there are some great spreadsheets out there that allow you to input your word count and show you how you’re doing. I try to find ones that show the estimated date of finish (if you write the same amount every day), and how many words per day you need to write to reach your goal. They are brilliant, especially if you know you won’t actually hit 1,700 every day, and that your word count will drop up and down on a day-to-day basis. They work well to encourage you, too, and to give you a great idea of how well you’re really doing.

3. Write Something You Enjoy – Don’t Be Afraid To Play

This may seem simple, but you really do need to make sure you’re going to enjoy writing your novel for a whole month. It’s no good to set out to write a literary novel. Personally, I’ve found fantasy to be a great genre to write for this. For me, I like to write something that gives a lot of scope. It means that if I’m stuck on a scene, I can switch to something else or change POV. If you’re struggling to hit that word count, play around a bit. Multiple POVs worked for me in 2009, having a lot of different characters (demons and werewolves and vampires, oh my!) helped in 2010 and in 2011, I wrote about an immortal alien who has had to adjust to different time settings since World War One. It meant I could jump around whenever I got frustrated with one part of it. And don’t be afraid to mix it up; this year, I’m writing about a character who finds himself dropped to different points in time and space. Originally, he was just going to go back and forth in time but I decided to throw in a couple of AUs too, just so I have that scope if and when I need it. Main point; keep yourself interested. Don’t worry if it becomes jumpy and hard to follow, you can edit and cut after.

4. Experiment

One of the best things about the last three years has been the fact that I have been at University. In terms of NaNoWriMo, it helped a lot; not only did I have the time, but often I could adjust and change things from Creative Writing seminars and use them in my work. Essentially, they were prompts, and if you come across any in November that you like, use it. They can really help, especially when you find yourself a bit stuck. Use the month to experiment, to try different things you maybe haven’t touched before. It can really help you keep things fresh and, more importantly, keep yourself interested.

5. Have Fun

This is the most important part, and it fits into everything else mentioned. You will not get through November if you don’t have fun with it. Don’t get stressed; you’re writing this for yourself, not for anyone else. If you get stuck, go for a walk, take a shower, read a book or play a video game. Relax, chill. Stress will make it harder, and may even stop the magic coming from your fingertips.

Good luck for NaNoWriMo 2012! Any tips you’d like to share?



By now, this book has been out for a little over two weeks and has been commented on and reviewed more than most other books I’ve seen in recent years. To be honest, I don’t often read a lot of book reviews, except for those by other bloggers and the odd one that may catch my eye while browsing certain newspaper based websites. But this one seems to have been everywhere, and it’s caused a little bit of a debate, so I thought I’d add my own (obviously) highly valued opinions to the mix.

I want to start off by saying how much I love J.K Rowling. She’s a role model for many, and if it wasn’t for her (and Anne Rice) I don’t think writing is something I would have ever considered seriously doing. I lapped up the Harry Potter books when I discovered them, worked for the midnight release of the last book (I even opened the first box of them for the shop) and felt like a part of me died at the end of both the last book and film. Hell, Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood, and I wasn’t the only one. Many of my Uni friends, as it turned out, were also HP geeks, all of us able to sit and talk about the books, dissecting them and discussing what, exactly, made them great.

We were never able to quite pinpoint that. Don’t get me wrong; the books are amazing, and Rowling has the ability to draw you into her world, make characters you care about and create situations that have you gripping the book tightly, unable to put it down. But the one thing I, personally, realised as I grew older, and especially during the time I studied Creative Writing, was that Rowling was not a great writer. I mean in the technical sense; she’s good, but there are points where, sometimes, the style itself can fall flat. But – in Harry Potter – Rowling makes up for that with her wonderful storytelling.

The Casual Vacancy is her first book for adults, and focuses on a small English town. When one of the parish councillors dies, his seat is left up for grabs. The various townspeople begin to fight for this seat, though there’s the sense that outside the core group who have a stake in the events on the council, no one cares. The characters themselves are vastly different, and Rowling does manage to slip between one character and the next quite easily.

But…well, sometimes the change in narrative becomes distracting. There is no doubt that Rowling can, quite well, use a large cast of characters, but at times it feels like you barely get to know one before plunging into the life of another. On top of this, most of the characters are rooted in stereotypes, and on the whole they’re just not likable. It’s hard to find exactly who you want to root for – the lines between the causes themselves are clear, but even the characters who are on the decent and just side I wanted to see fail.

It sounds harsh, but even the ‘good’ characters in the book have few redeeming qualities. It could be argued to be realistic, but I can’t imagine a town full of horrible, nasty people with only the odd nice person cropping up now and then, and there’s little room left for redemption. The characters who do have a few good qualities are over shadowed by the nastiness around them, or reveal undesirable attributes themselves.

I’ll start with one of the few Pagford residents I did like. (As a side note, I had to consult a character list to refresh my memory. There’s a lot of them.) Gavin Hughs is a bit of a dick, but he’s faced with a girlfriend who just packs ups and leaves her home, dragging her daughter from her life, to be with him. His reactions in this are understandable, and although he’s shown to be lacking a backbone, he can’t really be blamed for not wanting to tell Kay he doesn’t want a relationship, especially as she starts to ‘settle in’ in Pagford. His fascination with  (spoilers, by the way) Mary – whose husband Barry’s death opens up the novel – seems, at first, to just be a way to avoid Kay. But then he reveals he’s in love with Mary and it is so out of the blue, so random, that my liking of him dipped. There’s nothing to show why he might like her, or that she may return his feelings, and to me it would have made more sense if he had just been using the widow as an excuse to push Kay away.

Fats is an arsehole, and that’s putting it nicely. A kid who just doesn’t care about anyone else – or who doesn’t want to care. His best friend Andrew never really tries to help himself. Of course, his father is an abusive dickhead who he can’t stand up against, but outside of his family home Andrew just seems to lean on Fats for his own identity. Gaia, daughter of Kay, comes across as selfish at most points. Of course, it’s completely understandable that she would have arguments with her mother, and even hate her, for dragging her away from her normal life, but even teenagers have some redeeming qualities. There’s little we see outside of her home life and Andrew’s fixation on her, so it’s hard to really get to know the character.

Her friendship with Sukhvinder seems based purely on the fact that Sukhvinder is different. Sukhvinder herself could have been a stronger character; she’s one of the few that seems to have the potential to be outside the horrible nastiness inhabited by everyone else, but the abuse she faces from Fats and her mother keeps her down. It’s understandable that she doesn’t stand up for herself, but it feels like she is little more than  tool, a stereotype of the bullied victim, used just to show the reader how awful bullying is. This role draws more pity than anything else, and for much of the book that’s all you really can feel for the character.

And then you have the Fields, the council estate that sparks off a lot of debate and anger in the book. I grew up close to a council estate, that has now been knocked down. Many of the kids there went to my primary school and, following this, my secondary school. They were my friends, and Rowling’s portrayal of the Fields, I admit, made me a little angry. Of course, the people who want it gone are the sort you would expect to hate a place containing people they see as ‘lower’ than them, so for the first part of the book I was hoping that we would see a more balanced view of the place later on.

We don’t. The characters who live on the Fields are shown to be mostly drug addicts, with no jobs, and kids who act up and misbehave, walk out of school and are uncontrollable. If it had been a couple of the inhabitants who had been like this, fair enough, but we don’t see the hard-working people who look after their kids well, or the kids who work hard at school and don’t act up constantly. There’s no balance in the place. In a story where the aim is to show how pig-headed and ignorant those who are against the Fields are, it doesn’t work when the portrayal itself comes off as slightly, well, ignorant.

The other thing that bugged me comes from the fact that it’s her first ‘adult’ book. That’s fine, and I have no arguments against wanting to explore more mature themes, but to me, that doesn’t mean every character has to swear like a sailor. At times, it feels like Rowling is trying too hard to make it adult, through the use of sex and swearing, rather than letting the characters act more naturally.

Despite this, I do think it’s worth a read. Like I said above, J.K Rowling is a good – if not great – storyteller, even if the writing doesn’t work at times. The story kept me gripped, kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next and Rowling is good at keeping you guessing. Like many others have said, I don’t think it would have been published without her name on the front. Still, it will be interesting to see where she goes from here. It’s new territory for the woman who brought the Wizarding World to life, who created some great characters and settings grounded in a purely fictional place, and it feels like, with this book, she’s almost starting again and finding her feet in the world of more ‘realistic’ novels. So, who knows, maybe the next book will be an improvement. Or maybe she’ll go back to writing about Hogwarts and magic. Only time will tell.

What about you? Have you read the book? What did you think?



{October 9, 2012}   The Greatest Story Ever Told?

Back in July, I wrote about Superstar, ITV’s search for the next Jesus Christ. (For the musical. But I wouldn’t be surprised if reality TV does start searching for the next Messiah. Coming soon: Save Our Souls, USA!)  You can read it here, and please pay attention to the end, where I state I didn’t think anyone would pay £70+ for a ticket.

Well, this is embarrassing.

I paid.

In my defence, I brought two tickets for my mum’s birthday present – one for me, and one brought with the help of my brothers for her. And you know what, I happily eat my words from the end of that previous post. I had a great time, the show was brilliant, and I walked away with a ten quid program and fifteen quid t-shirt. (I had a lot of money left over from London.) So, here it goes; my review of Jesus Christ Superstar, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, 3rd October 2012.

When I heard the show had been modernised and set against the backdrop of the riots, I was really excited. I mentioned in my Footloose review that trying to update it didn’t work, but Jesus Christ Superstar is different. The story itself is timeless, and it’s one of those musicals that should be updated and revised. It worked. The show opened with a news broadcast about the frustration of the common people against those in power in the financial world. After this, the cast came on – some were dressed as riot police, and others looked like they had been picked up from the Occupy camps.

Obviously, any form of violence in musicals is stylised, and I love it. I love seeing dance used to convey fighting, and the way the clash was shown between police and rioters was done well. Above it all, the screen showed Twitter and Facebook updates, with mentions of Jesus and the twelve. Actually, one of the things I really liked was in the use of the backdrop; at the camp where Jesus and his followers gathered, it shows a building, a banner hanging from it with #TheTwelve. Nicely done.

Judas, Jesus, Mary and Herod

My favourites from the show all went out before the finals, but two of the wannabe Jesus’ that stood out to me were in the show – in the ensemble. However, Ben Forster, as it turned out, was a brilliant choice for the main role. He, essentially, nailed it, playing the part of Jesus with all the doubt and fear that the role needs. Since the TV show, he seems to have really come into his own, stepping into the role and hitting the all important high notes in Gethsemane. During that particular song, my eyes were ringing.

Considering the backdrop of the show, Tim Minchin was a perfect choice for Judas. He fits in with the feel of it, and, again, managed to convey the emotions needed for the part. You can really feel the love triangle vibe between him, Jesus and Mary, and can really see him desperately trying to find a way to make things right in his eyes. One of my favourite songs belongs to Judas – it makes up part of the opening, and has Judas proclaiming “No talk of God, then we called you a man”. He is, really, the stand in for the audience; questioning and wondering about Jesus, and nowadays, especially, his role seems more important as Atenism seems to grow larger while the Church grows smaller. At times, you really feel yourself siding with him – not just because he doubts Jesus, but because he loves him.

Love at first riot

Mel C as Mary was…well, she wasn’t awful, or bad. I just wasn’t a huge fan. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on Spice Girls like every other 90’s kid, and I can remember the excitement girls my age felt when they appeared on the scene. To us, they were amazing, and new, and no matter how you think of them now, I do think they inspired a lot of girls (when I was a kid, anyway) to be themselves. Some of my friends still have a soft spot for The Spice Girls. But I don’t think a role like this suited Mel C. Her voice doesn’t suit it, and even with the modern feel to the whole thing, it didn’t feel like she quite fit in. Mind you, Mary’s role isn’t that huge in the musical. The story really does focus on Judas and Jesus. But, of course, one of the most famous songs from the show belongs to this character, and I couldn’t help but cringe slightly when Mel C performed ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’. (For the record, my mum liked it.) I said in my Footloose review that Ren didn’t have enough anger. Here, Mary didn’t have enough sadness. It’s a touching song, because it’s about falling in love when you don’t want, and it has some key lines, especially when relating to Jesus. (He’s just a man.) I love songs about resisting love; I Won’t Say (I’m In Love), I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, I could go on. But the same feeling in those, the same essence of Disney’s Meg in Hercules should come through with Mary. That sadness about realising he’s not just a man should be there, and she just didn’t have it.

Plus, some of the symbolism in the song was a bit too overdone. They – perhaps the person who directed, rather than just Mel C – seemed to be trying to reflect Mary’s transition from whore to non-whore (?) in a way that was a bit too heavy-handed for me. Oh, look, she’s wiping off her make-up, and taking off her leather jacket, and now she’s in a white dress! She’s pure now! As much as I like Mel C, it just didn’t work. And, again, her voice did not suit the role.

Leather jackets, now in new ‘impure prostitute’ style!

And, finally, King Herod. A lot of people who I mentioned the show to seemed to cringe at the idea of Chris Moyles in a musical and, more importantly, Chris Moyles singing. He doesn’t seem to have the voice that would suit a musical – but, of course, most people would have only heard him on morning radio. To me, it seemed to be an interesting choice, and of course, Herod has one song in the show. The song itself needs a lot of punch, sarcasm and wit, and I didn’t feel too hesitant about seeing Moyles in the role. In truth, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of singing in this version of the song, but the parts that did involve singing…Moyles pulled it off, and brilliantly. He had the whole attitude down, and the addition of making him a talk show host fit perfectly. The setting leant itself to the way they decided to do this one; Herod as a talk show host, inviting the ‘audience’ to vote on whether Jesus is a ‘Lord or Fraud’. (I’m not sure if they forgot how Ben Forester got the role…) He has the charm you’d expect, and the wit is all there, as well as some wonderful additions in the screen at the back of the stage.

The Saviour of Radio One vs The Saviour of Mankind

Overall, it was a great show. The ensemble gelled together, as they should in musicals like this, and the fresh setting really added to the story. Whether Christian, Atheist or anything else, it’s a story you can appreciate. It has, after all, endured for two thousand years (give or take), and back when they wrote it, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice took this tale and created something amazing from it. To me, the musical is a great way of retelling the last few days of Jesus, in a way that you can enjoy it without having to believe in it. And it lends itself to being modernised and retold time and time again. If I could, I would have loved to shake the hands of everyone involved and just say “Well done”. But, I can’t, so I’ll just praise them here, instead.

Which brings me onto what happened after the show.

I kind of wanted to meet the main cast. And why not? Mum and I wandered around to the back of the CIA (sorry, Motorpoint Arena. Which will always really just be CIA to me) and saw a few others waiting there. Always a good sign. We stood around, where one of the women asked who we were hoping to see. I kind of shrugged. “Anyone.” A few years ago, I met The Used waiting outside the back entrance, and it was also how I managed to meet my favourite Joseph from Any Dream Will Do. (Are you noticing a trend?) Sometimes, it pays off. Sometimes, like that night, it doesn’t.

Well, two of the guys who were in Superstar did come out and happily signed things for the small group of us either side of the gates who were waiting. They signed programmes, had photos taken, and looked happy doing so. With that in mind, in case Jeff or Tim ever do read this, thank you. It may not seem like a lot, but just taking the time to put up with people yelling your name left right and centre is kind of a nice thing to do, especially when you could have just carried on walking. Clearly, a lot of people there had been fans of Superstar, and damn did they look happy holding their signed items.

There can be only one…(but those who don’t come first usually do better in the long run, so there is that…)

It didn’t take long for them to get around everyone. There really weren’t many of us waiting there. A guy next to me clutched his Chris Moyles book, while a teenage boy on the other side told of how he’d waited two hours, in the rain, the night before, hoping to meet Tim Minchin. He mentioned how, after two hours, the main cast just got in a van and drove past. And yet this kid was back, ready to try his luck again. For his sake, (and, selfishly, a bit mine) I hoped that night’s Judas would come out. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Mel C and Chris Moyles hadn’t, but for some reason, I did think Tim Minchin and Ben Forster would perhaps meet the fans.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I was disappointed.

After an hour of waiting, the security guards told us that ‘they’ were going to get in the black van we could see waiting and go. They moved the barriers, and we could do nothing but watch as Mel C, Chris Moyles, Tim Minchin and Ben Forster drove past us. Part of me felt angry; okay, maybe they weren’t supposed to meet us, but if that was the case, why make us wait at all? Mel C and Chris Moyles – nothing against either, as I don’t know – I could understand, on some level. After all, they’ve both been around a fair while and you do kind of expect people like that to just not care.

Maybe I’m naive, to think a comedian and musician who at the start of their careers would have really, really needed their fans (for Tim Minchin, maybe a while ago, but Ben Forster, not so much) would have actually come out to meet them. Having gone to a few amateur comedy nights, I realised how much a good fan base can do for someone on the comedy circuit. So, yeah, I thought he’d make an effort. But, again, maybe he’s just been around for long enough now to not bother.

But, seriously, Ben, if you’re ever reading this, remember who put you there. It wasn’t just Andrew Lloyd Webber. You weren’t cast by struggling through West End auditions and trying to get every part you could and praying for a big break. Maybe you have done that, in the past, maybe you have paid your dues, but that’s not how you got the role of Jesus. You got to play Jesus because of the British public. Because people voted for you.

I would love to be in a position one day where people want my autograph, even if it’s only a small group of people who just happen to love my books. I would love to be able to say “I have fans”, and if I ever reach a stage where, for some reason and in some situation, I just go “Nah”, I’ve already asked my mum to slap me around the head and tell me to stop being stupid. Because I’ll remember that teenage boy’s face as, for the second night in a row, his idol just drove right past him, because, for whatever reason, they just didn’t want to meet their fans.



Please note, this is quite a long post. Longer than I intended. But if you stick with it…thank you, and hope you enjoy.

As mentioned in my previous post, my intention in going to London was to visit Thorpe Park. I’m a huge fan of theme parks, and especially of roller coasters. I think I have a strange reaction to them – at times, I can find fast, twisty rides relaxing. Just me? Nevermind. Anyway, I had two free tickets – thanks to The Sun newspaper and my dad buying a copy every day to get the tokens – but was unable to find anyone to go with me. Most of my friends are either studying hard for post-grads, working and unable to get time off, or not working and therefore too skint. So, what did I do? (I hear you cry.)

I went.

On my own.

I know they – and by they, I mean the mysterious ‘they’, those that no one quite knows who ‘they’ are – say you should do one thing that scares you every day. But how often does that chance present itself? In my experience, very rarely. But, in London, with my brother and his girlfriend at work, I had the chance to do something that did scare me, for different reasons. The main reason surrounded the fact that theme parks are social experiences – maybe going by myself would be a bit sad. They are designed for groups of friends, families or couples, not for someone on their own with a day to kill.

Going to a theme park by yourself. side-effect: This.

And yet I went. Not just that, but I am very glad I did. It was an experience, and I rarely do things on my own. I felt, in a way, that I kind of proved something to myself, not just that it is possible to enjoy an experience like a theme park when you have no one to share it with. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have one of my good friends at my side, screaming alongside me as we dipped and turned. But I didn’t. So, dear reader, I present to you an account of my lonely yet fun day at Thorpe Park.

The most useful item in any theme park.

I set my alarm for half 8, with the intention of getting up and going by 9AM. The park opens at 10, and I wanted to be there sometime before 11. At ten past 8, my brother came into the room he had so kindly given me for the weekend, and asked if his girlfriend could borrow his make-up. I had had a bad night sleep, for no apparent reason. So, I gestured to my make-up bag and, after a few minutes, decided to get up. By quarter to 9, I was walking towards the bus stop, feeling nervous but excited, eager to get to the theme park and get on the nearest roller coaster to the entrance. At Clapham Junction, where I arrived about twenty to ten, I waited for my train. My MP3 player was on, and Footloose came on. Resisting the urge to dance, I settled for tapping my fingers against my leg.

I hadn’t wanted to take a big bag – I wanted something I could clutch onto, tightly, and keep my things safe if I had to take it onto any rides. This meant I didn’t have a book. Luckily, I grabbed a seat on the train with a copy of Metro on it. So far, so good. The shuttle bus was already at Staines station when I got there, and I eagerly jumped on. £3.50 for a return journey, straight to Thorpe Park, was pretty good, and I happily handed over my money, after being asked if I was staff.

My first thought was “No, I’m just on my own,” but I resisted and instead, with a huge smile on my face (and the driver saying “Not that you look like staff! You could be, but…” and fumbling over his words) I said “Nope!” and got my ticket. The bus journey – they crammed a lot of people on – wasn’t that great. I was standing, and was the only non-staff member on the bus who wasn’t with someone. Groups of kids, families and a few couples were stuffed on, and all I could do was listen to my music and lean against the window, watching the town (I think it’s a town…) of Staines go past.

So, things had dipped. Yet, as I jumped off the bus, I felt that eagerness and excitement return. I headed to the entrance, before glancing behind and seeing the short queue of people waiting to buy tickets. At the front were two teenagers, a boy and a girl, rummaging in their bags for, I expect, money. Darting over to them, I fished out my own tickets. As I reached them, I asked if they were waiting to buy tickets. The girl answered yes, and I handed over the spare one – with a smile – just saying “I’ve got a spare free one, here.” She looked surprised, asking if I was sure, and I rushed out “Yeah, couldn’t find anyone to come with me,” with a shrug, but still smiling. Funnily enough, the closer I got, the less being on my own was bothering me. I told them to have a good day and headed back towards the park.

I didn’t spot anywhere to get maps, so just followed the signs for the closest ride, Colossus. I could barely contain my grin as I turned the corner and saw…it was closed. Damn. Okay, never mind. Maybe it would be opening later (it was only about half ten), and Saw: The Ride was pretty close, so I headed for that one. Now, I love Saw. The first film made me totally fall in love, the main guy reminded me of one of my brother’s friends from Uni – a lovely guy who once walked me through London to head back to my brother’s place – and the other guy was, well, Cary Elwes. As in, my favourite Robin Hood ever (except for the fox, because you just can’t beat a fox with a bow and arrow) and Westley.

“As you wish” – immortalised and made romantic by this man

I even liked some of the later films, though have not yet got around to watching the last couple. With my love of these films, Saw was one of the rides I was really, really looking forward to. I joined the short queue, and texted my friend saying “I want to play a game. I will give you a clue and you can guess which ride I’m about to go on. I’m about to go against Jigsaw.” I have to admit, I didn’t pay much attention to most of the surroundings, as I found myself right outside the warehouse almost straight away. The set-up is brilliant; you go in, where you see a cage with a contraption inside, and climb some stairs. There’s a TV, flickering, every so often showing Jigsaw’s famous puppet face, telling you he wants to play a game. Then, you pass another cage with barbed wire inside and a shadowy shape caught in it.

By the time I got to the ride itself, I was buzzing. I think a lot of excitement for roller coasters does come from the build-up, and it’s great when that is aided by what is around you. And, much to my relief, there was a place to hand your items over and receive a band for your wrist, so I didn’t have to worry about anything falling out while I was on the ride. I sat down, grinning as the ride took off.

The games have just begun…

You start off in the warehouse, rounding a corner and, if you’re in the second cart, you stop. Waiting for you and the other riders is Jigsaw, on his tricycle. He tells you about how people are ungrateful to be alive, but if you survive his games you won’t be, not any more. It fits in brilliantly with the themes of the films, and again adds to the expectation and excitement of the ride. And it’s so much more than just the drop pictured above. In the dark, you drop, twist and turn, while saws do their job dangerously close. After all, you’re in a saw mill. Once you come outside, it picks up – bigger drops, bigger twists and, thanks to the Great British Weather, I even got pretty wet. Everything about the ride fit in with exactly what I want from a roller coaster, and I even stumbled a bit getting off.

With no map to guide me, I just headed off in the direction of another track. I found myself at Nemesis Inferno – texting my friend with “An enemy bursts into flames” – and, again, joined the nicely short queue. The ride is based around a mountain (or mine, maybe) but the build-up wasn’t as good as Saw, and the ride wasn’t as memorable. Still, I wouldn’t suggest missing it if you ever find yourself in Thorpe Park, but it was nothing to write home about.

 

 

45 minute queue = worth it.

More so than Saw, Swarm knows how  to keep you entertained in the queue. As you walk through metal fences, there are TVs showing a constant broadcast, detailing apocalyptic scenes across the UK, thought to have originated in the thrill centre of Thorpe Park where a plane has crashed. The more you hear, the more you realise there’s more than meets the eye to this story. People have been told to stay in their homes, and they ‘write’ in to state their belief that the authorities know more than they are letting on. The second time I went on the ride, they were discussing a known conspiracy theorist they were hoping to get an interview with…who has disappeared. It all builds up, and there’s enough layers to make you really wonder what’s going on. If you check out the website, and read the diary  of – I think – the conspiracy theorist, it becomes apparent that there is a creature hiding beneath the lake. It’s brilliant marketing, and damn do I love a good story. Hell, it kept me very entertained, and I was on my own.

The ride itself starts in a hollowed out church, adding to everything else going on. The surroundings, too, are done well, with emergency vehicles abandoned and a helicopter in a lake. It was also waiting for Swarm that I got my first random encounter of the day. You’re seated on the rides in twos, and being a single rider makes it pretty easy to slide in anywhere. I stood with an older woman in an Alton Towers poncho (there were a lot of them that day), who started talking to me. Of course, I ended up explaining none of my friends could make it, but that I had free tickets. She was nice, and we commented on the weather before getting on the ride.

I liked her – as the people around us screamed and swore, she just laughed, shaking her head. As the ride finished, I commented, “Is that it?” She replied with “They don’t last long considering the queues.” True, but still worth it.

It wasn’t even one, and I had been on the three (open) rides I was interested in. So I went to grab some lunch. It wasn’t too expensive, considering, and I ate my hot dog and chips (fries for any American readers) while wondering what to do next. I was still wet from the rain, so going on Tidal Wave wouldn’t hurt. But I’d still want to buy a poncho for that, which was five quid. I also wanted to go on Saw and Swarm again, and maybe check out the Saw Live Maze. Even the thought of that scared me – I was on my own, after all, but I was determined to go on it.

So I headed back to Saw, near which is the maze. It was closed. Kind of grateful for that, as it is meant to be pretty scary. The queue for the ride this time was 45 minutes, so I joined the back and waited.

Again.

I found myself queuing behind a couple, maybe my age or a few years older. The girl was in one of those Alton Towers ponchos and the guy in a track suit. Another couple soon appeared behind me, chatting happily. The guy had a call, and explained to the person on the other end that he had two free tickets from The Sun so he was at Thorpe Park. As I listened, I heard him comment “Yeah, quite busy. You can tell unemployment has gone up.” This was less than a minute after he had said he’d booked the day off work. In a way, it kind of annoyed me. I’d noticed the park had a few groups of kids/teenagers, a few families and other pairs (perhaps having had the same free tickets I was lucky to get). To me, it wasn’t an example of being unemployed. After all, others can book time off work – as I had done – or just don’t need a job at this particular time. (The kids/teenagers being an example) And, anyway, if they were unemployed….

Why spend £40.00 on entry to a theme park???

Anyway, moving on from that…one thing about being on your own in a Theme Park is that it allows you to people watch. You can listen to conversations, notice how people interact with each other, and that – stuck between these two couples – is what I did for the long queue to get on Saw for the second time.

Being between these two couples was actually quite interesting. The couple behind me – with the guy no longer on his phone – talked happily, joking with each other and seemed to be having a pretty good day, despite the rain. The couple in front…well, the girl slouched down in her poncho and when the guy said something to her, she would turn to look at him with a frown fixed on her face. A few times, he leaned forward and kissed her, but it seemed to get no response. It was like she was determined to just be in a mood. They did comment to each other a few times, but whenever he tried to engage with her it seemed to fail.

Now, you’re not supposed to smoke in the queues. I stuck to the rule, as I think it’s reasonable and understandable (and, also, because in situations like that I am terrified of getting caught. Yeah, I’m a wuss) as you have a lot of people crammed together. But ahead of the queue were a fair few people smoking. And damn, did they looked like they were trying to act cool about it. (As in, they looked like they thought they were cool. They really weren’t.) One guy blew his smoke out and it came our way.

Most people’s reaction, I think, would be to sort of roll their eyes and maybe comment to the person they’re with about it. The girl in front of me made a show about waving her hand in front of her face and coughing. To me, it seemed a bit over-dramatic, especially as it’s obvious she wasn’t exactly going to say anything – not that I would, in that situation. Fair play, they shouldn’t have been smoking there. Maybe it was her whole attitude as I queued up behind her that made it worse; she seemed like she was going to let the smallest things ruin her day. Later on, as the queue snaked around by the warehouse, she stared through the metal fences at the warehouse. I had to try hard not to laugh at what happened next.

I think it was mainly funny because of the impression I had of the girl, and because it was random. The guy put his hand on the back of her head and gently pushed her forward, into the fencing. She ‘ow’ed and asked him why he did that while he laughed, and after a few seconds, she smiled.

And I felt like cheering.

After Saw, I decided to go on Swarm again. On my way, I discovered Stealth was now open, and eagerly joined another 45 minute queue.

Two men queued up behind me; older men, joking and teasing each other about rides they wanted to go on or rides they had been on, with one of them saying he wanted something relaxing, like the teacups. Both were bald, with glasses, and after a while one turned to me and said “You’re missing someone, aren’t you?” Once more I explained about no one being able to come and the free tickets, and the pair chatted happily to me about their day, my day, and as we were waiting on the stairs for the ride, saying I was wearing “Proper shoes.” (I was wearing my blue Converse, for anyone who is interested) They were nice, and looked disappointed when I mentioned Saw Alive was closed. The current ride we were waiting for was short, but it wasn’t as twisty as the others. The whole point about Stealth was speed.

Again, I was impressed by the effort gone into making the queue entertaining. There was a radio station playing made to sound American, in a very cheesy way, playing hits from the 60s and with the DJ in his Southern American drawl detailing the efforts of someone to break the world record for speed. There was an advert for a stopwatch, which Johnny apparently used when attempting this same world record using Stealth. The front of the rollercoaster was made to look like the front of an American classic car. All very themed.

And holy shit did that ride go fast! It was amazing, and coming off I actually found myself trying to catch my breath. A brilliant but simple ride, I was so glad I had the chance to go on.

I still don’t understand why some of the others were closed, but I headed off, stopping in the gift shop and picking up a pack of Saw playing cards and a Swarm key ring, glad that I had come, even if I was on my own, and satisfied that I’d had a good day, going on rides I had wanted to go on for ages.

If you ever do find yourself with the chance to do something you really want to do, but are supposed to have someone else to do it with but can’t find anyone, do it. If I hadn’t gone, I think I would have really ended up regretting it. I had a great time.

So, what about you? Anything you’ve done recently that, originally, you were hesitating about but ended up being glad you went through with it?



et cetera