You can’t go wrong with Pac-Man

I have exciting news beautiful readers!

The wedding invitations are complete. Okay, half complete. Alright I’m about 33% of the way there. If anyone knows my future mother-in-law, do not tell her.

No, don’t be silly, it’s not a wedding invitation update. It’s this:

After moving through to the second round of the Yeah Write Super Challenge, by sharing a story of a flatulent feline, I was tasked with writing a persuasive essay in response to the prompt “Is there value in playing computer games?”. As you can imagine, I was delighted with this topic because I am positively teeming with video game knowledge. I can’t finish a sentence without reference to my immense and overwhelming knowledge of Grand..um..thieving…call of Halo?

Brad is a gamer (I know, I know, we all have our crosses to bear) so I thought I’d ask him to help me out. He started talking and it sounded very much like Charlie Brown’s teacher speaking so I gave up. The best piece of advice I ever got about writing was from someone who said that you should write about what you know. My knowledge of computer games began and ended in the 1980s, so that is exactly where I went.

Luckily for me, the judges liked it and *girly squeal of excitement* I’m through to the final round!

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PAC-MAN: MORE THAN JUST A GAME

My knowledge of video games is pretty limited, although as a child I was shit hot at Pac-Man.

I had an Acorn Electron computer circa 1984 so when I say Pac-Man what I actually mean is that I had a game called Snapper which looked suspiciously similar to Pac-Man. The designers of Snapper originally named it Puc-Man (see what they did there?) but it turns out that the makers of Pac-Man saw through that cunning disguise resulting in a change to both the name and some small elements of the game play.

That said, Snapper was still incredibly similar to Pac-Man, a bit like when you walk into Aldi and think that you’re surrounded by named grocery produce only to discover when you get home that you’ve bought ‘Hob-Nibs’, ‘Prangles’, ‘Coca-Coca’ and ‘Wow! Who can tell that this isn’t butter?’

Despite the fact that I had budget Pac-Man, I did not care and I spent many a happy hour moving that greedy little yellow dude around the maze whilst he munched his way through hundreds of delicious pac-dots.

There was limited research on the positive effects of playing video games until the past decade. Sadly, I am so old that my gaming days were back in the last century but I firmly believe that playing Pac-Man in the middle of the 1980s had a positive effect on me. Recent research has found that playing video games improves hand eye coordination (University of Toronto study in 2014) and a study by a New York Doctor in 2007 showed that playing video games improved the skills of surgeons performing keyhole surgery.

Fortunately I don’t have responsibility for cutting people open for a living, but I’m a demon touch-typist (yes, I do realise how lame that sounds compared to life saving surgical abilities). However the good level of hand eye coordination required for typing is bound to have been improved by my childhood goal to save Pac-Man’s life.

Pac-Man also taught me about multitasking. Pac-Man has to rush around, eat, avoid things that are out to get him and remember to get some fruit into his body every so often; which pretty much describes my usual day.

In some ways, Pac-Man is a bit of a female icon. Toru Iwatani, the inventor of the game, wanted to create something that women would enjoy. At the time, many of the games were violent war or space invader type games. Pac-Man was different and held much more of an appeal for women. Given that the aim of the game is for Pac-Man to outwit characters that want to bully him and ultimately take revenge, many women saw the attraction of the game.

In 2016 video games are much more popular and easily accessible than they were when I was young. The main negative effect of playing video games when I was a child was just trying to fill the time that it took your game to load up from a cassette tape. I’m pretty certain that you could start loading the game, get called downstairs by your mum for dinner, talk to your parents about what you learnt at school that day, moan that you don’t want to eat the carrots on your dinner plate, begrudgingly eat your carrots because you really want Angel Delight for pudding, eat your Angel Delight, return to the computer and still hear the damn thing whirring away trying to load.

The media describe the main concern with video games nowadays as being the violence that games contain and argue that this has a detrimental impact on children by increasing aggression and aggressive behaviour. Luckily for me, Pac-Man and the ghosts were not known to drop the f-bomb and their simulated deaths were pretty underwhelming; Pac-Man makes a sad little noise and vanishes into thin air and the ghosts cart their body-less eyes back to their lair to be regenerated.

I did not always find playing Pac-Man an enjoyable experience. I recall once being very distressed and crying to my Mum because the four ghosts were ganging up on Pac-Man and I felt that four against one wasn’t fair, although had I known at the time that the ghosts in the video game had names and were called Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, I’d probably have liked them a little bit more.

My Mum, who is very wise, used my anguish at not being able to thwart Pac-Man’s enemies as an opportunity to teach me a valuable lesson: Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes you will not win first prize, sometimes people will stand in your way, sometimes circumstances will challenge you and sometimes people will be unkind to you. When this happens, like Pac-Man, you have to just keep moving around the maze, keep eating, keep doing your very best and if you work hard, you might just end up with a key and 5000 points.

Pac-Man: more than just a game.

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Happy Camper

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I went out for cocktails with some of my lovely friends and family over the bank holiday weekend which was great fun. My blog came up in conversation, mainly because my mum was there and a friend (and very loyal reader) asked me if she was the lady who owned shoes that fastened with Velcro. After the slightly awkward moment when my mum glared at me, mentally removed me from her Christmas card list and started practising the phrase “Me, children? Yes, I have ONE daughter”, she showed off a pair of very stylish and most definitely not fastened with Velcro shoes.

This also prompted a conversation about my writing. My friend said that he very much enjoyed my blog and referred to it as “mainly consisting of you writing about things that make you angry”. It was not supposed to be an angry zone but I had to agree with him in spite of myself. In order to rectify this, today’s blog entry is about the little and obscure things that make me happy.

Waking up early

Don’t be alarmed, the title is slightly misleading. I am famously not an early riser. I have managed to spend most of my life being completely unaware of the existence of another five o’clock; one that doesn’t signify home time. What I am referring to is that wonderful experience when you wake up after being asleep, think that it’s almost time to get up and realise that it’s actually 1.00am and you’ve still got six and a half beautiful hours of sleep ahead of you. An unexpected dozing dividend. Bliss.

Word play

I love anything that involves playing around with language, either deliberately or by accident. Some of my favourites are the removal company called “He Van Movers of the Universe” and the ordering of the famous Chinese dish “Automatic crispy duck”.

On the theme of incorrectly ordering in restaurants, I was out for dinner at an Indian restaurant with family a few weeks ago when one of the party (who shall remain nameless to protect their dignity) wanted to order a desert called a BNW which stood for Black ‘n’ white; dark chocolate shell containing white chocolate ice cream. Quite a simple and straightforward action you would think. You can imagine everyone’s horror when the Indian waiter arrived to take our orders and was asked for three coffees and a BNP.

My sister and I once had quite a serious argument about the name of our dance teacher, Lorna Roff. My sister got very cross when I tried to explain that her name was not Lorna Off as she had believed. Particularly as the conversation went a bit like this:

My sister: Her name’s Lorna Off

Me: No, it’s Lorna Roff

My sister: Yes that’s right, that’s what I’m saying, Lorna Off

Me: No. Lorna Roff. Roff

My sister: No, Lorna Off. Off

Me: Lorna Roff

My sister: Lorna Off

It continued like that for quite a while…

My most favourite word play (because I’m super childish) is the web address of a company that sell “elegant writing instruments”, finest quality, one of a kind pens as gifts. The company is called Pen Island Pens.

Unfortunately, the web address is http://www.penisland.net.

If only they’d added a hyphen.

Thursday

As week days go, obviously Friday is my most favourite. However, I think that Thursday should also be given credit for being so much more marvellous than Monday. When I was a child, I used to go to disco dancing lessons, with Lorna ROFF, on a Thursday and I always looked forward to that day of the week. When I was in my teens, a sneaky night out on a Thursday was a regular occurrence because you could get away with disguising a ‘hangover recovery’ bacon sandwich as a ‘it’s Friday, let’s treat ourselves’ bacon sandwich.

If I’m going to stay up late, I can always justify it to myself on a Thursday because I’ve only got to get through one more day. Plus, people like to take long weekends or only work four days per week so there are less staff at work on Friday to notice if you’re not performing at 100%. I’d just like to take this opportunity to say that if my boss is reading this, I have never not worked at 100% and I was just imagining what it would be like to do so for the purposes of this entry.

Thursday has been overshadowed by Friday for so long that I feel a bit sad for it. If Monday was more Thursday-ish we’d all be a whole lot happier on Sunday night. I think we should nurture Thursday a little more and recognise how great the achievement is to get to day four without quitting / punching someone / breaking something / crying / having a breakdown. I love you Thursday. You make me smile.

Chairs with wheels on

Even as an adult, I have been known to spin around on an office chair or scoot from one side of the office to the other without leaving my chair, it’s so much more fun than getting up and walking across the room. Why do chairs have wheels, if not for this purpose? I posed this question to Brad last night. He said “Erm, so that they can move in and out of desks easily?”. Hmmph. Spoilsport.

Telesales

No, I don’t really love the people who phone me up to ask me if I’ve got 15 minutes spare to take a survey about my shopping habits or to tell me about all that lovely insurance money that’s due to me after the accident that I didn’t have. Oh and whilst I’m on the subject, those PPI people can PPI-off as well.

I have found myself on the receiving end of a number of these calls to my mobile recently, I’ve obviously managed to fill out a form where I’ve forgotten to tick the ‘I’d rather stick hot needles in my eyes than have you call me incessantly’ box (I may be paraphrasing) and have managed to get my mobile number stuck on a telesales list somewhere.

In order to make the experience of being telephoned by either a computer, a minimum wage earner called Dave from Liverpool or a chap from India, strangely enough also called Dave, more bearable. I have saved all telesales numbers in my phone under one contact which is titled “Some cock trying to sell me something”. It gives me the joy of not having to answer the phone (I already know not to waste my time because it’s only some cock trying to sell me something) with the added bonus of my not getting angry when they call and instead chuckling to myself every time the words flash up on my phone screen. Give it a try, I highly recommend it:

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Vodka turns my thoughts to words

VodkaThis morning I woke up to find that someone had removed me from my bed and placed me into a waltzer car. There were bright lights, everything was spinning and I swear I could hear the muffled “super fast ride, super fast ride, scream if you want to spin faster” of a fairground worker far in the distance. In addition to this, there were drums pounding in my head and my mouth tasted like I’d been licking a patio. It was a hangover. The nasty side effect of consuming too much of the naughty Polish distilled beverage that I am rather partial to and had drunk quite copiously last night at a friend’s party.

I do enjoy having a tipple. I like the social element, I like the fact that it relaxes people and that an incident can be infinitely more comical if you have a glass of wine or two inside you. My sister and I went to an afternoon barbecue a few years ago and had quite a number of drinks. We were queuing up to get some food when the lady in front of us stumbled slightly due to the fact that the ground was uneven, a few seconds later, I too stumbled on the same patch of grass. The woman in front of us said ‘Ooh, holey ground’. Because of the wine, I didn’t hear ‘Ooh, holey ground’ I heard ‘Ooh, Holy Grail’. I said ‘Er, okay’ whilst pulling a bemused, slightly anxious expression and trying to work out how I could get out of being stuck in a conversation with a bible-basher who thought she’d found some religious chalice at a shindig in Surrey. I then turned to my sister, who was sniggering away next to me and said ‘Holy Grail?!’ in what I thought was a whisper, forgetting that wine is an incredibly effective amplifier. My sister had also thought that the lady had said ‘Holy Grail’ but was savvy enough to have worked out what she actually said and found me yelling ‘Holy Grail?’ at her hysterical which in turn started me laughing. The poor woman looked mortified but my sister and I couldn’t stop laughing for long enough to explain what had prompted our outburst.

I also love that crazy drunk logic. My favourite quote from last night’s party is:

“Your friend is very tall, isn’t she? I didn’t think you’d be friends with someone as tall as that.”

“Well, I met her at playschool when I was three and we were the same size. I didn’t know how tall she was going to grow.”

“Ahhh, that explains it.”

A conversation that would never have happened had we stuck to the soft drinks. Oh and for the record, my friend is about five foot eight, she’s not a freaky giant who has to duck her head when walking through doorways.

The hangovers are a challenge that come with drinking. It’s quite distressing that they get more underhanded the older I become. In days gone by, there was just one bog standard, common or garden hangover. Nowadays, there are two other categories that seem to have gatecrashed.

The first is the sneaky hangover. You wake up. You sit up. You think to yourself ‘Woo hoo, no hangover. Feeling good.’ You get up, start pottering around, thinking about breakfast and then out of nowhere after being awake for a good half an hour or so, your stomach starts gurgling unattractively and an elastic band has developed inside your head to squeeze your brain. It’s like the hangover is running late: ‘Oh bloody hell, I didn’t think she’d be up yet. I totally overslept. Shit. Where’s my sledgehammer? I’ll just set the elastic band up whilst I go and look for it. I’ll reschedule the stomach, do that this afternoon instead.’

The second new style hangover is the worst of all: Two. Day. Hangover. You never know when it’s going to strike and there is nothing that you can do to stop it. Gone are the days when you knew a greasy fry up, a can of coke and an early night would see you right as rain. You don’t know if the two day hangover is going to kick in until you wake up on day two and it jumps out at you from behind the wardrobe yelling ‘Surprise!’.

The other challenge for me that comes with drinking is the fact that alcohol dissolves my breaking mechanism. The system that is in place to prevent the words that are in my head from coming out of my mouth. The worst thing is that I know it’s happening but I can’t do anything about it, the angel on my shoulder is yelling ‘Nooooo, don’t say that. Keep quiet’ and the devil on the other shoulder is calmly carrying on ‘Can someone give that winged bitch some wine to shut her up?’. I once told someone that I worked with that I thought his partner was much nicer and much more fun than he was and asked if I could work with the partner instead. I told a friend’s brother-in-law that he was very odd and I didn’t like him and was going to go and talk to someone else.

I also think I’m some sort of super duper agony aunt, the Claire Rayner of the drinking world and insist on giving people advice. Last night I told someone that they should not have split up with their ex and they needed to get back together. Unsolicited, unwanted advice forced upon some poor soul regarding a situation that is none of my business. There is also quite an infamous situation where I appear to have convinced someone to call off their wedding. Now, don’t get me wrong, no-one would actually call off their wedding on the say so of a drunk bird with a ‘Dear Deidre’ complex but I’m not sure that I helped matters.

So, I have decided from now onwards that I am going to give up drinking at parties.

Well, maybe just cut down.

Hmmmm… I might make my final decision tomorrow.

Maybe people need to know that they are a bit odd? Perhaps I’m doing a public service?

Yeah, that’s right. I am.

Now, where’s my Smirnoff?

To queue, or not to queue, that is the question:

st-georges-cross0On St George’s Day earlier this week, I was reflecting on all things English and picking out some of my favourite things; Pimms, bonfire night, bacon butties and Victoria sponge cakes are naturally pretty high up my list but I have decided that my two favourite things about being English are English manners and English language.

I love the intrinsic politeness of being English. We are a nation of sorry-ists. We apologise for things that aren’t our fault “Oh, I’m terribly sorry that my feet are on the floor in front of me. I can see that you were left with no alternative but to stand on them. No, no, it’s completely my fault, I just should have put them somewhere else, my apologies. Are you okay?”

It’s like queuing. I don’t actually like standing in a supermarket queue wondering why the man in front of me is only buying a carrot and a packet of digestives (This was an actual purchase that I witnessed recently. My conclusion being that his biscuit tin needed replenishing and he owns a rabbit). But I do love the fairness and the courteousness of it. In England we’re generally very “After you, you were here first” about things. Abroad, it’s every man for himself; like spinsters at a wedding bouquet throwing. Terrifying.

I particularly love the sudden random camaraderie that happens when someone tries to queue jump. People with absolutely nothing in common, apart from a need to catch a bus, immediately turn into ‘defenders of the order’ and will do everything they can to prevent someone illegally entering the line. It is a proven fact that you will move closer to a man with a comb over and a dirty mac who has been blatantly looking at your tits for the past 14 minutes rather than create a chink of space for an interloper. That’s the mighty power of the queue.

If I were not English, it would sadden me greatly. Not only would I not appreciate the civilised nature of a queue, I also would not know and love some of the great English words like jammy, scrummy, shirty, faff, brolly, strop, twit, cross, welly, yonks and most importantly, bollocks. I love those words. My life would be empty without them. I wouldn’t want to replace them with American words. I don’t want bangs instead of a fringe, I will wear my pants underneath my trousers thank you very much and I can’t even say the word fanny let alone use it to describe my bottom. I feel violated just writing it down.

The most disturbing phrase I discovered on a trip to Canada. Picture the scene: it’s a balmy summers day and I’m enjoying a barbeque in a friend’s garden, meeting new people, having a few drinks, enjoying my holiday. I’ve nearly finished one drink and someone hands me another so I’ve got a drink in each hand. Suddenly the beautiful scene is shattered by a man who I’ve only just met saying four words to me “Are you double fisting?”. I’m momentarily stunned. What sort of pervert does my friend socialise with? How do I respond? Fortunately for the poor unsuspecting chap, my friend was within earshot and shouts loudly and calmly across the garden in a reassuring manner “Two drinks! You have a drink in each hand! They call that double fisting over here!”. Crisis averted. Although, if he was making some lewd comment, what would I have done?… Apologised probably.

If music be the food of love, play on

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I am not a fan of silence, as anyone who knows me will agree. If there is silence, I consider it my duty to fill it with chat. Donkeys who are particularly keen on their hind legs tend to keep well away from me. An ex-boyfriend once described me as “The girl who uses too many words” An affectionate reference… I think.

I can, and frequently do, talk to the cat but she’s not a great conversationalist. Plus as our conversations are generally limited to “Are you sleeping?” “Here’s your dinner” “Are you sleeping?” “Stop getting under my feet” “Are you sleeping?” “Stop scratching my sofa” “Are you sleeping?” “Don’t try to eat my tuna sandwich” and “Are you sleeping?”, it gets slightly repetitive after a while.

Now the problem with chat is that if I am at home alone, there is no-one to chat to. I am loathe to fall into the category of someone who talks to herself, all the while recognising that talking to the cat is only marginally more acceptable. However, to prevent it happening, I have the radio on all the time when I am at home. This means that my mouth is occupied by singing instead of talking.

I was pottering around the flat earlier today and a song came on the radio that I hadn’t heard for ages, it was ‘What’s up’ by 4 Non Blondes and in that moment, I was suddenly 14 again. It was the summer of 1993, my sister had purchased the single from Woolworths on tape and boy, was she getting her money’s worth. If memory serves me correctly, she played it over and over again. Admittedly many years have passed and my memory is a little fuzzed up with 20 years worth of life getting in the way but I knew pretty much every word to that song.

It struck me that songs have such a massive impact on your life and the moment you hear a song, you can be completely transported back to another time in your life. Songs can remind you of moments, of events, of people, both good and bad (ooh, look at me getting all deep and philosophical… note to self, must mention cake or vodka or throw in a swear word shortly to bring things back to my usual level).

But, it won’t matter if I don’t hear ‘What’s Up’ for another 20 years, it will still always make me think of my sister, I will remember that it was summer when she bought the song because it was during the six week school holidays and my mum had students. I will remember that she played it really loudly and that when she first bought it, I actually quite liked it until I’d heard it played 28,000 times. That said, I very much liked it when I heard it played today and, unsurprisingly, I did know every single lyric.

I also remember that after the ‘What’s Up’ obsession, she started to get into dance music and the only noise that emanated from her bedroom was the “oom cha, oom cha, oom cha, oom cha” beat from her current favourite dance track which you couldn’t recognise anyway because she had the bass turned up so loud that you could feel the beat rather than just hear it; like you’d swallowed a tiny MC and he was performing a set in your chest.

I on the other hand, had a crush on a boy who was a Guns ‘n’ Roses fan so Guns ‘n’ Roses became my obsession. If the tape case had a ‘Parental Guidance’ or ‘Explicit Lyrics’ sticker over the front of it, all the better. My poor mother had heart stopping base beats coming from one bedroom and “Why don’t you just fuck off?” blaring out of the other bedroom. It’s a wonder that she survived our teenage years.

Talking of my Mum, the song ‘Ruby Tuesday’ always makes me think of her. Around about the same time as the summer that was sponsored by 4 Non Blondes, Rod Stewart had released his version of ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and it was playing on the radio. I was half singing along to it, and innocently talking about it, describing it as a new song. My mum, absolutely outraged that I referred to it as a new song, insisted on playing me both the 1967 Rolling Stones original and the top ten cover version by Melanie Safka from 1970 (both on vinyl, naturally) before making me judge which one was best. Let me tell you, Simon Cowell has nothing on my Mother.

My mum also contributes to the song that reminds me of my Dad; ‘Every time you go away’ by Paul Young. This song features the lyrics “Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you”. Dad told me that the words were “Every time you go away, you take a piece of MEAT with you” so that’s what I sang for ages. One day, I said to my mum “Mummy, Daddy says that it’s ‘every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you’, is that right?”. My mum, who is one of the most pragmatic people I know, responded in a slightly exasperated way “Jolene, do you really think that someone would carry around a piece of meat with them? That would just be silly” so that told me. Mind you, even now when I hear the song, I do struggle to sing the correct words.

Johnny Depp once said “Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t”, now I’m pretty sure he wasn’t referring to me as a seven year old picturing my dad carrying a lamb chop in one hand and a rasher of bacon in the other every time I headed off to school, when he said this but I think he has a pretty good point. Plus, I like the idea of ending this post with Johnny Depp. Mmmm what about Johnny Depp eating cake and drinking vodka? Fuck yeah.