Friday, 10 April 2020

How are you doing, everyone?

That's it, that's the blog. (This turned into just a scattered list of my musings over the past few weeks)

While I might have technically been considered a keyworker providing an essential service, my workplace (nursery/pre-school) has had to close down temporarily as there weren't enough children of keyworkers to keep running.

I'm doing okay. I've been getting some good reading time in. Of particular note, I've reread Pachinko and Homegoing, read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, all of Karen M. McManus, and two middle grade greats, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant and A Sprinkle of Sorcery. It helps that my birthday was just before lockdown, so Dad thought ahead and bought me a lot of books. I have The Priory of the Orange Tree to read next.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons helps. I can play with with a group of friends of mine who are mainly based in the USA, and it's become a way to socialise. We've also been meeting up for film nights.

Nearly the entire Studio Ghibli library is on Netflix now, and it has been a huge help. Things like Netflix and Disney+ are an essential form of escapism right now.

As an introvert, I'm doing okay, but I like going to restaurants and big cities as much as any extrovert. Although often without personal company. I did get slightly restless the other day. When this is over, I will eat at so many restaurants, especially those small, local companies.

I can't do much to help, but if sharing little coping strategies of mine helps one other person, it will be something. I also put my name down to give blood. I can only bow down to all our healthworkers, and other keyworkers, throughout the world who are putting their lives on the line. Doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, cleaners, retail staff, delivery drivers... many of you never signed up for this. None of you are getting the pay you deserve.

I'm still keeping a check on the news, but I'd also advise switching it off if it is all getting too much. There's nothing wrong with that, and your mental health comes first.

So, how are you? What's helping you cope?

Friday, 24 January 2020

A Review of The Royals series

The Royals is a duology by Rachel Hawkins. The first book, Prince Charming, was originally published under the title 'Royals.' Daisy Winters is a Floridian teen whose sister just happens to be marrying the Heir to the Throne of Scotland, Prince Alexander. However, most of that family is a mess, as she finds outs when she visits for the summer. Millie Quint loves Scotland, so when the opportunity to study over there comes up, she takes it.

I thought it was an interesting take on a Royalty book, having the main characters sister be the one marrying the Prince, and Daisy along for the ride. Credit to the second book, too, because surely, everyone deserves to read a royalty romance where they feel represented.

Daisy's a geek, but as it isn't the main focus of the book, it's not constantly discussed. This is certainly realistic - there are scenarios where I would be discussing my geeky hobbies all the time, and there are times when it just doesn't come up all that much. She's also not got one specific interest, which is perfectly valid for someone her age.

Millie has a passion, and it's different, too! She really likes Geology. I really like YA characters with an interest, especially when it's one outside the norm. However, for someone Scotland-obsessed, Millie really didn't seem to know all that much about it. Wouldn't you, I don't know, at least look at a map? She also assumes that Brits wouldn't understand what she means by Texas, or some of the American slang she uses. Princess Flora gets some of her best lines just pointing this out to Millie.

There are quite a lot of just basic cultural errors here and there. Some could be excused by the narrators being two American girls, but... Daisy's parents are both British and Millie's (allegedly) Scotland-obsessed, so wouldn't they be expected to know more about the countries then the average non-Brit? And also... Daisy's parentage would give both her and Eleanor automatic British citizenship, but never once is this brought up. Hawkins seems to hugely misunderstand how much regular people really care about the royal family, too.

It could have been a great place to inform people slightly about Scottish culture, but all that is brought up is what people would already know. Things like bagpipes and tartan (which isn't as interchangeable from plaid as Hawkins seems to think) and oddly, Pimm's. Pimm's is English, and I was unsure from the description if Hawkins had ever tried one, since they are made with lemonade and not really that strong. Scottish cuisine is almost never mentioned. Shortbread or cranachan are lovely sweet offerings, and it would have been interesting to see haggis presented as something not to be feared. The only time is when Millie turned her nose up at Scottish breakfast, which was annoying as fry-up is the food of the gods. The only thing that would seem strange to an American is black pudding, and this was served hotel-buffet-style in a palace, so I would assume it would be good and Millie can just leave what she doesn't like.

There's no point, at all, where a British person ever would have a medical bill, for a serious medical condition. That's it, end of sentence. The only points where we pay is, in some circumstances, for dentistry and opticians, and for non-essential procedures.

Another thing I found really hard to swallow is the whole school thing. Look, the UK education system... is not the easiest one to step into for outsiders. We're discouraged from changing schools to a different one in the same country during our GCSE or A-level years. What qualification was this school even offering? A-levels? Highers? International Baccalaureate? Advanced Highers probably would make most sense, but what all those have in common is that they are two-year courses. You don't just study one thing for one year and that's it done. Everything we learn builds on what comes before, and I would expect Millie to need some serious catch-up courses. She'd be trying to do two years of work in one, plus catch up on the building blocks that we've been learning since primary school. Our history in schools is majority British, and that's a lot to learn the year before applying to university or college. Stepping into a British school just for your last year of compulsory education is very difficult.

And... can we please stop describing brown hair as boring? Look, I have brown hair, and reading that description so often does get me down. What about "My hair is the rich brown you see sometimes on dye commercials, and it shines perfectly in the sunlight."

By and large, though, the slang on the UK characters works. What a lot of people don't realise is that we are exposed to American media since birth. So yes, you can get away with more Americanisms than people think, and most times, we can 'translate' between the two on the fly, or at least work things out from the context.

One thing these Royalty books (as a genre, not just this series) do well is show the pressures of royalty in modern times with the extent of the media. Meghan Markle hasn't been treated well in the UK press, and roughly 0% of what they publish about the Royal Family can be believed. It almost makes me long for a time when the royals were off-limits. The first book, actually, showed this better than the second. I would have expected what was essentially Princess Flora coming out in front of the world to be all over the tabloids and her mother to be furious, but the book does not tie up this loose end.

I don't want to seem like I'm being too harsh on these books. Royalty books are my guilty pleasure, and it's obviously not meant to be serious. I just feel like a lot of the issues in this book could have been ironed out with even one read-through by a British person. Take them with grains of salt, and don't go running to your British friend saying "Is it true you don't have peanut butter because I read so in this book?"

In case it wasn't clear - yes, we have peanut butter, and not just in the American Foods aisle of the supermarket.

If you want another fun, frivolous take on a fictional royal family, but one that does pay slightly more attention to the worldbuilding, check out American Royals by Katherine McGee.

Further reading on the UK School System:

Monday, 30 December 2019

My Media Picks of the Decade!

I was finding it tricky to come up with a list of anything 'Of The Decade.' Part of the problem was that I can't remember what I was doing last year, let alone ten years ago. I also would keep choosing things that came out at the very tail end of the last decade. Eventually, I decided to narrow it down to one pick for each category I would focus on, so I could choose what stood out most strongly in my memory. I also said that if something came out the previous decade, but has had lasting cultural impacts into this decade, I would count it. It would also have to be something I enjoyed personally myself, so that I could form some coherent thoughts on it. And so, without further ado:

Video Games: Right off the bat, this was a tricky category. I could make a reasonable argument for anything from Minecraft to Pokémon Go. However, considering I was going for things I personally enjoyed, I ended up giving it to Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Video games are also effecting how we tell stories in more traditional media. BioWare has been at the helm of choice-based narratives in video games since very much the early part of the last decade. Indeed, the first Dragon Age game came out in the 2009, and Mass Effect came out in 2007. I won't say there weren't a few missteps within these series, but that's part of how things grow. They've also very much pioneered romance sidequests, a mechanic in video games which I enjoy. Choice-based dialogue is showing up more commonly, even in games now where you wouldn't expect it, and I can only hope that companies continue to come up with ways to make players feel involved with the story.

Books: This is the one place where I really feel like I have cheated slightly. I have chosen The Hunger Games, with only Mockingjay coming out in this decade. However, the first film came out in 2012, so you can easily make the argument that the bulk of their popularity came out this year. And their huge effect on Young Adult literature has definitely been felt this decade. YA is having a bit of a renaissance right now, and many titles taken on would have been done in part due to the influence of this series. I will also credit it with a wider resurgence of dystopian fiction, which is at it's best a way to view the issues facing our world with a different lens.

Films: I hope everyone will understand if I choose the Marvel movies as a whole. This decade in film will be very much remembered as the decade of superhero movies. They're all a fun way to spend 2-and-a-bit hours, even the ones with lower critical ratings. In fact, if all they provided was an escape from reality, that would be enough reason to keep making them. But they also encourage me to be a better person. We can't all be superheroes, but we can all do a little kindness. I really hope that in the next decade, they continue to push the boundaries of what kind of stories they can tell.

TV Show: Did any entertainment from any media define the decade so greatly as Game of Thrones? It has monopolised conversations with workmates and friends ever since it first appeared on screens. It has changed what we can expect from TV shows in terms of production values. It's become the show all other shows will be compared to. In terms of special effects, number of characters, costuming, scope and scale of the sets, there wasn't anything like it before, and I don't think there will be for quite some time.

Musical: Yeah, this had to go to Hamilton. Hamilton has pushed boundaries in so many ways. It influences how musical songs can sound. It allowed people to challenge their preconceptions of who can tell stories from history. It has encouraged an interest in musicals with those who may not have experienced them much. It has made the history of the Founding Fathers more relevant to those who may have found it a dry topic at school, or would have had no cause to study it previously. It has given much new life to a form of media that was struggling to find it's place in this decade.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Berlin, Day 6 -19/11/19 - Mall of Berlin and Flight Home

Today was my last day in Berlin. I didn't want to do too much with today, so I went to Mall of Berlin at Potsdamerplatz, because that way I knew I'd stay close to a train station. I had a small bite to eat and picked up a few little items along the way. I just get worried about not being able to make my flight, and to be fair I always find there's enough to do in airports that I can kill time.

Berlin, Day 5 - 18/11/19 - Jewish Museum and into the Bundestag

Today was my last full day in Berlin, so it was time to make one of my last stops. I went to the Jewish Museum, into Markthalle Neun for lunch and I also went up into the Bundestag into the glass dome. This I had to book in advance online, and it was lucky that I did look it up a few days prior, as it was sold out up to now.

Berlin, Day 4 - 17/11/19 - Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery

Today, I went to Checkpoint Charlie, which is someone I've wanted to see for a while, and I went around the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. The fall of the Berlin Wall is my answer to the question "What moment in history would you most like to witness?" After a brief stop back at my hotel room for a rest, which was honestly much needed, I went out again for dinner and drinks.

Berlin, Day 3 - 16/11/19 - TV Tower, DDR Museum and Berlin Cathedral

Today, I went around the Alexanderplatz area. One thing to remember is that this area of Berlin was on the eastern side of the wall. However, it's now a thriving, if touristy and commercial, area of Berlin. I went up the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), the DDR (Deutsches Demokratische Republik/German Democratic Republic) Museum and the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)