Lifestyle, Opinion

Dating in the Digital Age: Reflex rather than Reason

As a (borderline) millennial, my dating experience has been largely shaped by the digital age. For all the technological advances of the 21st century I imagine dating was a lot simpler without mobile phones and the internet. Without the hassle of apps, profiles and algorithms you’d know if you liked someone by more organic means. The way someone made you feel by how they behaved and what they said. Now that route is getting lost behind a seemingly unassailable quest for perfection and decisions made by reflex rather than reason.

We now have to stand out just to remain competitive. How we look and what we say are now held up for the wider community to judge rather than just limited to your peers outside in the real world. There’s a lot to be said about the corrosive effects of Love Island yet that desire to be a perfect physical specimen (a snack, apparently) has been adopted online. While that toning competitiveness sates the needs of the contestants and the public watching at home, we all do it when we pick and choose on an app. Abs, tan lines, white teeth and height all seem essential requirements to get anywhere these days. Fail on just one of those criterion and it’s curtains.

Are they sociable? Do they holiday in the right places? Have they got a dazzling smile? Are they adventurous? Do they prefer bars or clubs? Do they work out? Are they good with kids? Do they spend way too much time with their pets? Do they like football? You can only gauge so much from a set of six photos and even then that’s a stylised, choreographed glimpse into someone’s life. A picture can speak a thousand words but two seconds in someone’s company will likely tell you so much more.

Choosing the right photos is only half the trouble as you then have to choose the right words. There seems to be a thin tightrope between sounding cheeky and borderline creepy. A little about me can be make or break and what emojis you pick can go a long way. Quotes can be inspired and insipid. Chat-up lines fixed and foolish. Lists demanding and divisive. Whatever you do type will be judged, pored over and scrutinised all in a couple of seconds.

Then there’s the question of which photos and which words to use on which apps. Should you be more considered on Bumble because the girl gets to choose? More flirtatious on Tinder to aim for the Saturday night crowd? More opinionated on OKCupid to suit their algorithms? That’s even before considering whether to pay on Eharmony.

This is where the Paradox of Choice comes into play. If you limit yourself to a handful of options at least you’ll have a good idea of what you like, at least you can reason with what’s available instead of acting on reflex with the options you see. Much like grocery shopping, instead of doing your perusing online and deliberating over which grade of asparagus you want actually take a tote bag to your local greengrocer. Shopping is a lot easier when you can see with your own eyes and judge what’s put in front of you.

With so many apps to choose from and so many profiles to consider some of us seem blinded by choice, crippled by so many options and helpless to take a chance. To know so many people match what you’re looking for can raise hopes yet it all seems so temporary and even cheap when there’s such a plethora of options. Let’s put it this way. If you went to the pub and were introduced to someone who wasn’t your ‘type’ but you still hit it off, are you more likely to go out with them rather than the absolute snack who can’t hold a meaningful conversation?

Dating apps now fill a gap of convenience. While we were once limited to the people we’d physically come into contact with, now our eyes have been widened to people we might not even cross paths with, all in the palm of our hands at a moment’s notice. People we can judge in an instant despite never sharing the same space. There’s something inherently wrong about that; a quick cynicism we’d all do well to avoid. That your hopes of a match can be dashed because someone doesn’t like your haircut in a particular photo, or disagrees with your top five films, or thinks you could lose a few pounds. Things you’d gloss over in public are now the be all and end all online.

At least in the real world you can usually tell if someone likes you with a glance. Ghosting doesn’t happen because you can simply be polite and make your exit. Rejection can be a forced smile and a dignified response. Few people nail first dates as easily as they do online dating, therein lies the concern. We can all parade our best selves online yet when it comes to nailing a first impression and holding a conversation isn’t that where the focus should be?

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Opinion, Podcasts, Politics, TV

The Final Things I Wanted To See In Game of Thrones

After eight years and 73 episodes, the final end credits have played out on Game of Thrones. Today is the first Monday after the end and I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself. I’m not even sure whether or not I’m content with how the whole shebang finished. Certainly, the amount of debate that the ending has brought suggests that while some, like me, are satisifed there will be thousands of avid fans who wanted so much more. For the record, no, I have not signed the petition to remake season eight. As much as I sense that the season was rushed, it’s insulting to so many people involved in the show’s production. If you’re not happy with how something ended, take the effort to create something yourself. Having said that, here’s a list of the things I wanted to see.

  1. Closure. Jon became Queenslayer, the wheel was broken and Bran was crowned the new King. Who’d have thunk it? If those were the bullet points around the show’s ending, there was a nod to John Hughes in how the second half of the finale went of tying up loose ends. Bronn got Highgarden, though it would have been nice to see him lord it up. Tyrion became Hand to The King, more as a penance than a reward. Similarly, Jon returned to The Night’s Watch to spend his life sentence with Tormund and Ghost. His arc now resembles that of Aemon Targaryen; being a potential heir to the throne yet finding himself protecting the realms of men with duty presiding over love. Sansa became Queen of The North, evoking Elisabeth I in ruling alone and forgoing children. Her sister became Arya The Explorer. Brienne joined The Kingsguard, Pod was knighted and Sam became Grand Maester, (though does that mean he’s left Gilly, Lil Sam and even Lil’r Sam in Horn Hill?). It was all a bit… cosy, part of me wanted a truly ambiguous ending to keep me guessing. One suggestion doing the rounds is Drogon landing in Volantis to leave Dany’s body with a Red Priestess with the final shot being her gasping for breath after her resurrection. Would have been… interesting.
  2. A New Power Structure. For all the expectancy around The Mad Queen’s demise, it was Drogon that took the decisive step. Having realised that Jon wasn’t responsible for her death, rather her power crazed quest for The Iron Throne was, he turned his heartbroken fury and fire to the seat that is now a molten puddle. Quite what Drogon appreciates of politics is anyone’s guess yet you’d hope they’d spent some time extrapolating the extent of a dragon’s intelligence. Maybe a bit more time for Dany to explain to Jon her almost telepathic link with her dragons in an effort to add some meat to Jon as Aegon Targaryen so it didn’t look like such a pointless reveal too. In any case, the feudal system is over and rulers will now be chosen in The Dragonpit, which calls into question why so much was made of Cersei’s pregnancy/courting of Euron and Dany’s infertility/courting of Jon as none of it mattered in the end. The King was picked and he couldn’t even bear children. I was close with my prediction of a new council though the show failed to explain how The Dothraki would have taken the news of Dany’s death. Would they have casually returned to Vaes Dothrak? What about how the rest of the Six Kingdoms would have taken it? For all the lolz that Sam’s suggestion of democracy brought, there was a point to be made of how the masses would have taken the news. Aside from some Northern folk and the ashen remains of King’s Landing we only truly saw the main players. We didn’t even find out how followers of the Faith of the Seven took the destruction of The Sept of Baelor. Did they revolt? Did they rejoice? Did King’s Landing become a totalitarian state ruled by fear? The council that did get to decide the fate of Westeros had a mismatch look to it; less who was worthy to sit on it but who, of even minor importance, was left. Even Ser Davos didn’t think himself worthy, Edmure Tully laughably didn’t and we didn’t even see how Gendry would behave as a Lord. At least we got to see the benefits of titty milk to Robin Arryn.
  3. Gendry to land a telling blow with his warhammer.Two battles and not a single warhammer in sight. Disappointing.
  4. Revealed: Tyrion is also a Targaryen.He’s not even important enough to be in the official account so no-one really cared, even if he did get to decide the next ruler, while in chains.
  5. Revealed: The identity and motive of The Night King.Likely to be included in the Bloodmoon prequel which is under development.
  6. The Valonqar prophecy comes true.  Maybe this’ll come out in the books. One of the aspects of the final season that should be noted, and the TV show in general, is how it’s steered away from the eccentric, magical theories in the books to centre on the characters. No Dragonbinder, no ‘Feagon’ and no Lady Stoneheart. If you did want to hear some in-depth discussion of what’s been missed from the books I’d recommend listening to the SpoiLore Editions of the Game of Thrones podcast by Baldmove.com
  7. Arya ticks off her kill list. The theory that she would kill Dany after face-swapping proved to be just that. In any case, her ninja skills would have to get her past Drogon.
  8. Happy Endings.There were certainly some happy endings for many of the supporting cast, perhaps they were too happy for many.
  9. Bran warging.Strangely we didn’t get much warging, or did we? There is a truly staggering theory that suggests that Bran has been planning this from more or less the start. I imagine if you rewatch the show from the beginning knowing he ends up on the throne, every decision works in his favour. Bran always seemed to know where everyone needed to be. Like the ultimate tactician, was he playing the Game of Thrones the entire time? Did he warg into Dany when she laid waste to King’s Landing and did he warg into Jon when he killed her? Did he ensure her closest advisers and one of her children died in front of her to push her to the edge? Did he ensure Sam told Jon at just the right moment to raise the stakes?
  10. Samwell Tarly becomes George R.R. Martin.Talking of Sam, in a truly meta moment we saw him present A Story of Fire and Ice.
  11. The Prince That Was Promised.Another for the books as the show couldn’t be bothered with it.

 

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Lifestyle, Music, Opinion

Seven lessons learned from Fyre Festival

As the title to the Netflix film goes, Fyre Festival really was ‘the greatest party that never happened’. The promotional material depicted supermodels in their natural habitat of sun, sea and… swimming pigs. There was supposed to be Michelin starred chefs, luxury villas and extravagant cocktails. This was supposed to be the festival that only those rich enough to afford it and those shallow enough to enjoy it would attend.

Day tickets were priced from $500 to $1,500 with VIP packages including airfare and luxury tent accommodations for $12,000. The marketing campaign worked a charm as supermodels and Instagram influencers posted a photo of a blood orange square to cries of ‘but what does it all mean!?’ Occasionally they would even hashtag the festival they were being paid to promote. Tickets sold out and that’s when the trouble started.

That the founder, Billy McFarland, is currently serving a sentence of six years behind bars for fraud should tell you that the festival truly went tits up. But what lessons can be learned from the most infamous of festivals?

  1. Prioritise toilets over models

Supermodels and Instagram influencers were paid to sell the dream of icing sugar beaches, cocktails and cute swimming pigs. The harsh reality was that people would still need toilets and one of the few sensible voices on the documentary belonged to a pilot; Keith van der Linde. Having learned how to fly on Microsoft Flight Simulator he understood the concept of failing to plan is planning to fail. The pilot would insist on toilets, argue against tents and was roundly ignored. He and the festival planner were gone with less than eight weeks to go. Panic stations.

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  1. Pay your staff

There was one happy ending thanks to the documentary when a GoFundMe was set up to ensure that festival staff were paid. This included Maryann Rolle who lost her life savings through the fiasco after entertaining revelers out of her own pocket. Things could have gotten a whole lot worse as Bahamian workers threatened to kidnap the well-to-do attendees and even take out hits on the organisers.

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  1. Ensure you have an adequate stock of clean water

A particularly grim anecdote comes from Andy King, a gay New York City event production planner and associate of McFarland’s. With four trucks loaded with Evian held by customs, McFarland ordered King to bribe officials with fellatio. No joke. In the end the extreme measure was unnecessary yet without clean water the festival could have descended into carnage. Thirsty American revelers can soon turn violent as seen with Woodstock ‘99 where inflated charges for a bottle of water became the tipping point for a riot after a toxic concoction of neglected staff, a lack of toilets and inadequate shade spots.

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  1. Confirm the festival site well in advance

Plans to host the shebang on Norman’s Cay were scuppered when promotional material advertised that the innocently named island was formerly owned by one Pablo Escobar. With weeks to go, Roker Point on the island of Great Exuma was being readied by installing swing sets then throwing sand over rocks and hoping no-one noticed. McFarland really should have checked the a calendar as The National Family Island Regatta was held on the same weekend in late April. Not only was the site close to uninhabitable, there were no available hotel rooms on the island.

  1. Disaster relief tents are not ‘luxury accommodation’

Then there was the accommodation. After guests had been plied with free tequila the looming sight of dozens of FEMA tents should have been enough to sober them up. Akin to a scene from Lost, luxury villas they were not and a stampede for tents and sodden mattresses meant this was closer to the Hunger Games than an uber-exclusive music festival.

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  1. Secure your caterer well in advance too

The abiding image for Fyre Festival is not of supermodels frolicking in the sand nor of Ja Rule smoking a cigar. Despite the outlandish promotional material, it was one hastily taken photo of the food on offer that really got the public’s attention. Two slices of brown bread, two sweaty cheese slices accompanied by some meagre lettuce and tomato in a sad polystyrene box. To be fair, to offer no salad dressing is an absolute scandal. That’s what happens when a $6m catering budget is reduced to $1m and that one image went viral. Fyre Festival effectively became a laughing stock within a matter of seconds.

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  1. Don’t invite cameras if you plan on committing fraud

In legal parlance, there is such a term as a ‘slam-dunk’, a case with overwhelming evidence for a conviction. With McFarland out on bail he decided that defrauding hundreds of paying customers once was not enough, he tried to again in a ticket selling scam. Those who had bought tickets to the festival were now receiving emails from ‘NYC VIP Access’ and offered tickets to Coachella and seats at the Met Gala (alas, only those deemed worthy by Anna Wintour are allowed in to the fashion event). To the delight of the prosecution, McFarland had been filmed by an artist named Kindo. Slam. Dunk.

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Travel, TV

Visit Seville and imagine yourself in the exotic locations of Dorne and Meereen from Game of Thrones

With its blissful warm climate, strategic history and regal architecture, Seville looks fit for the big screen. Throw in some real world tribulations having been founded by the Romans, conquered by the Muslims then enduring the Spanish Civil War and it seems reality mirrored fiction when the city was selected to film the more exotic locations in Game of Thrones.

The city still carries an air of pride and importance, in fact Spanish royalty still have a residence at Real Alcázar which is the Royal Palace and Gardens and should be your first stop too. The site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and the palace’s walls faithfully depicts its myriad of monarchs and influences. From its Arabic occupancy to late Middle Ages Mudéjar then jumping to the Renaissance, Baroque and the 19th century in it’s very own Game of Thrones. Oh, and have you heard of the executed royal? The alleged brutal murder of Muhammed VI, with his blood told to stain the palace’s marble floor to this day, is the sort of backstabbing that George R.R. Martin could have used for inspiration and makes it perfect to masquerade as the Kingdom of Dorne.

Inside the palaces at Real Alcázar

Inside the palaces at Real Alcázar

Even the climate is a natural fit. With average summer high temperatures of above 35c Seville is considered the hottest city in Europe which makes it ideal for Dorne as the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms. Granted, the plotlines may have been somewhat tedious but the Kingdom of Dorne always appeared the most opulent in the medieval-era world, Dornish outfits were majestically coloured and the surroundings had a brilliant exotic, indulgent charm. Most of that extravagance has been garnered over centuries and centred on Real Alcázar which played the Water Gardens of Dorne, the private estate of the House of Martell during series five.

The fountain in Real Alcázar Gardens where Myrcella and Trystane are filmed strolling

The fountain in Real Alcázar Gardens where Myrcella and Trystane are filmed strolling

The fountain as depicted in the show

The fountain as depicted in the show

The show first visits the Martells in episode two after Trystane has been betrothed to Myrcella Baratheon. The pair are playing in the gardens below as Prince Doran Martell has a feisty chat with Ellaria Sand on the terrace overlooking Mercury’s Pool. The terrace itself is outside King Pedro’s Palace and out of bounds to the general public though the gardens, including the Italian ‘Grutesco Gallery’, are well worth exploring.

Mercury's Pool in the Real Alcázar Gardens

Mercury’s Pool in the Real Alcázar Gardens

In episode five Jamie Lannister arrives to attempt to retrieve Myrcella from her beloved Trystane and runs into Ellaria Sand’s daughters; the Sand Snakes, in the gardens next to Pavilion of Carlos V before all of them are apprehended by Martell soldiers. Another elaborate location is the beautifully lit domes of Maria de Padilla’s Baths where Ellaria secretly convened with the Sand Snakes to plot revenge for Prince Oberyn’s death. While the Martells were known for their promiscuity, fittingly Maria de Padilla was caught up in her own Thrones-esque plot as King Pedro’s mistress.

Maria De Padilla Baths

Maria De Padilla Baths

The baths as depicted in the show

The baths as depicted in the show

Episode nine featured The Ambassador’s Hall where Prince Doran received Jaime along with Myrcella, Trystane and Ellaria, though the star of the show is the hall’s gorgeous gold ceiling. The palace must have been manna from above for the producers as such glorious elegance would have been impractical to reproduce. From the Arabic three arches to the domed ceiling, ornate furniture, exquisite plasterwork and coloured Moorish ceramic tiles, all they had to was shoot as the backdrop was so sublime. Later on the in the same episode, Ellaria finally swore allegiance to Prince Doran with the paved courtyard of the Patio de las Doncellas in the background.

The Ambassador's Hall at Real Alcázar

The Ambassador’s Hall at Real Alcázar

The Ambassador's Hall as depicted in the show

The Ambassador’s Hall as depicted in the show

For those wanting to venture a bit further, there are two other filming locations outside of the city. Santiponce was once considered one of the most important cities in the Roman age and the ruins themselves are free to visit for EU citizens. The Italica ruins have been an attraction since 1989 when it was declared an Archaeological Site by a decree of the Andalusian Regional Government. Most importantly, the amphitheatre was used as The Dragonpit in the finale to season seven which saw Cersei Lannister face up to Jon Snow and Danaerys Targaryen. The ruins are about a half hour bus ride away on the M170 which is a local bus you can catch from the main bus station at the Plaza D’Armas up to every 15 minutes for €1.60. Keep gazing out of the window as the rolling hills on the approach through the village of Camas can be likened to those in Gladiator and you can see why the Romans took a fancy.

The Amphitheatre at the Italica ruins in Santiponce

The Amphitheatre at the Italica ruins in Santiponce

The amphitheatre as it appeared as The Dragonpit

The amphitheatre as it appeared as The Dragonpit

Danaerys Targaryen as featured in The Dragonpit

Danaerys Targaryen as featured in The Dragonpit

The same spot in the amphitheatre

The same spot in the amphitheatre

The entrance to the amphitheatre was also used to feature The Hound

The entrance to the amphitheatre was also used to feature The Hound

The entrance to the amphitheatre as depicted in the show

The entrance to the amphitheatre as depicted in the show

If large, open-air arenas are your thing then you should also visit the bullring at Plaza de Toros in Osuna which was Danzak’s Fighting Pit in Meereen in episode nine of series five when Daenerys Targaryen escaped on the the back of her dragon, Drogon, after an ambush attack by the Sons of the Harpy. You will have to imagine the dragon but the bullring itself dates from 1904 and is one of the widest and most prestigious in Spain, still seating around 5000 spectators. Osuna is about 85 minutes away on a coach from Plaza de San Sebastian and costs €8 one-way, though you could get the roomy, air conditioned train for €3 more. The train trip is also a far cry from Britain’s equivalent as the ticket price stays consistent and the Renfe train itself even comes with vending machines.

The Bullring at Plaza Del Toros in Osuna

The Bullring at Plaza Del Toros in Osuna

Filming the bullring as Danzak's Fighting Pit

Filming the bullring as Danzak’s Fighting Pit

The sheer variety of historical landmarks combined with it’s easy accessibility and warm climate make Seville a great destination for a mini-break. Given the brutal history that the Andaluscian capital has endured makes it a no-brainer that the city was chosen to masquerade as Dorne and Meereen. Even without your own dragon, there are few better cities to immerse yourself in the show.

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Travel

Safari Bingo at The Maasai Mara

A safari trip to the Maasai Mara must be pretty high up many bucket lists and mine is no different. Kenya’s most famous national park is teeming with wildlife and you have probably already seen it without realising. Those migrating herds of wildebeest charging across river banks, trying desperately to avoid the waiting crocodiles with commentary provided by David Attenborough. That would be the Mara River during The Great Migration as thousands of wildebeest travel from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Mara in Kenya between July and October, I went to see what all the fuss was about.

The first thing that strikes you about the Maasai Mara is its sheer vastness. Ideally this is best seen from above and there are regular flights out from Nairobi to ‘the bush’. I booked with Safarilink which has two daily flights out to Maasai Mara from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. You COULD drive out for 5-6 hours yet flying in a thirteen seater Cessna Caravan was an experience I was not going to pass up. This remains the closest I am likely to get to a private jet, albeit for an hour long flight so I sat right at the front and gazed at the confusing flight instruments. About as close as you can get to sitting with the pilot.

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Cessna Caravan

From a few hundred feet in the air you can clearly see the herds of zebras, wildebeest and giraffes meander across the plains. Then there is the topography of lush greens, pale browns intersected with ravines. Not a skyscraper or car park in sight, and you can barely make out the runways below.

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Our destination was the third and final stop making the plane the equivalent of a long-distance shuttle bus. As the plane homed in on Mara Keekorok there was clearly no terminal, no duty-free and no café; merely a local market ran by tribes members and a hut which acted as an admission gate to the park itself. Ah yes, the fees. For tourists the cost is $70USD per day which seems excessive but this is far better than your average day at the zoo.

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We were picked up by our two kindly, knowledgeable guides; Korbin and Benson, and soon enough we were away on our first safari trip. A bright lizard sunning itself on a rock and a lion family lazing under a sausage tree were our immediate highlights. After a couple of hours we arrived at Simba Lodge and were given a hearty welcome. The rooms are mainly constructed out of wood which blends into the surroundings. There are the usual trappings of a hotel room with a kettle, shower room and comfy double bed. Most impressively, the room featured an outside balcony overlooking the stream below. We really were in the middle of the bush as a hippo was enjoying the late afternoon sun on the opposite bank, only an electrified fence separated me from the wildlife. The monkeys were still lolling around the swimming pool though.

DSC05936In order to best see the majesty of the bush it is best to get there early. With my mobile alarm set I woke to the sound of birdsong, surely the best wake-up call on Planet Earth as Attenborough would say. Then watched as the red morning light diffused from sunrise. What became obvious over the next few days was the familiarity of the bush. On the first morning we were greeted with a family of giraffes mingling with zebras. We soon found out that due to the successful policing of the poachers the animals really did not mind us. Giraffes stared at us with a vague interest then continued munching on foliage. Strangely, considering their prevalent role in The Lion King, warthogs and meerkats were easily the shyest of animals we encountered.

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As far as action went we looked to have had narrowly missed a cheetah catching his dinner as a fresh wildebeest corpse soon had its ribs exposed. On another morning all appeared serene as a pack of zebras grazed on one side of the road. On the other side a lion cub slowly crept over the brow scouting for breakfast and suddenly the zebras were on high alert. Likely due to the interests of public decency we vacated the area to let nature play its gory course.

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On several occasions we were late to the action yet even then you could see the inner workings of the bush. When the chase was over and the hunters had had their fill the other predators join in. Before carrion becomes toxic the vultures actually play a responsible role in the bush’s upkeep. Rotting corpses can pollute the land and poison wildlife, before that happens the vultures pick the bones clean. The ecosystem in perfect harmony.

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With the safari trip itself ticked off the bucket list, the next list was The Big Five or, as I like to call it, Safari Bingo. On the first day I had managed to scratch off an African lion, elephant and cape buffalo. Feeling pretty smug with a solid afternoon of safari spotting we soon went off-road. Of course, we were not the only transport on the plains as Korbin and Benson slowed down to excitedly talk to another guide. They could have been discussing the latest boxset or what they were having for dinner such is my lowly grasp of Swahili. Soon enough we edged off-road and thankfully there was a reason to suffer all those bumps. The sun was going down and soon enough we would have to have departed the park and got back for dinner. Yet the reward far outweighed the risk, within a few minutes our guide pointed into the trees and a dark grey silhouette could be seen. At last count there were three rhinos on the Mara, somehow in the 1,510 km² vastness we had managed to spot one. Only when I realised how unlikely our encounter was did I really begin to treasure it. Our return to the lodge was innocuous enough, until we mentioned the rhino. Some workers had been at the lodge for months, maybe years without seeing one, we had only been there for a few hours. The bingo card was nearly complete and the first day had ended with a buffet dinner including dessert, I was on holiday after all.

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The second day was more of the same but I could appreciate how the Mara changes during the day. From mating calls and playfighting Gazelles in the morning to herds of wildebeest minding their own business. On the second day  I took a break from the wildlife to visit the natives. The Maasai tribe inhabit southern Kenya and are resident on the game parks. Indeed, the nearest tribe was pretty much next door to the lodge and for the afternoon we got to know their local customs. We were welcomed with the males bouncing to a rhythm and soon learnt about their cattle and goat herds. Their leader, James, spoke faultless English as my Mother asked about their interaction with the wider world; the internet, education and inoculations. We were then shown their clay huts, means of making fire and a herbal remedy for all ailments which made for an insightful afternoon.

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On our final day we had a full day safari with a picnic and ventured a bit further. A thunderstorm had left mud patches across the terrain which had mainly dried out during the morning. However, by early afternoon some mud remained meaning many transports got stuck and part of the entertainment was cheering them get towed out. As we got closer to the Mara river the sheer volume of wildebeest kept mounting up but we had missing The Great Crossing as the hippos, crocodiles and Egyptian geese looked kinda bored. There was one vacant box on my Safari Bingo card and with a few hours left I managed to tick it off as we spotted a leopard lazing up a tree. I felt like shouting ‘BINGO’ but that would have woken him then scared him off.

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The final morning was also my birthday yet I kept this quiet to enjoy the majesty of the bush waking up. The giraffes and zebras grabbing their breakfast, the wildebeest slowly meandering across the plains and the lions huddling as a family. Well worth a trip, even if it isn’t on your bucket list.

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Politics, Uncategorized

General Election 2017. I Still Believe In This Country, But Not Under This Current Government.

Let me begin with a disclaimer, politics is not really my thing. Yes, I take an interest in how this country is run and how, in general, the world is becoming increasingly ridiculous. I also know people who are a lot more articulate when it comes to understanding and explaining affairs of state. Most of us get our facts from the media but my patience for impartial news is wearing thin to the extent that I do not believe it exists anymore. Since a young age I have have maintained this heavy scepticism, especially when newspapers and television become our primary sources of information when election coverage ramps up.

My main concern lies in an estimated ¾ of the current mainstream media in the UK being privately owned, ergo I don’t believe most of what is being printed being anything close to objective. The Government had an opportunity to investigate the media but dropped the Leveson II Inquiry. I do not believe the media were let off the hook without a compromise, a government able to ignore unwanted facts is a prerogative of unchallenged power. Avoid headlines. Read the manifestos and make up your own mind.

Even then it can be difficult to try to find the common good amongst all the promises. I find it easier to present politics as a fairytale; good v evil, The Force v The Dark Side, government for the few v government for the many. Thomas Jefferson saw it as a battle between aristocrats and democrats. The aristocrats are ‘those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.’ The democrats ‘identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe.’ Once you realise how nepotistic the media is and concentrate on policies the picture becomes a little clearer. Judging by the recently published manifestos, it is not difficult to work out which party fits which description in this general elections and why I still believe in this country, but only if the current government was removed.

I believe in a £9 p/h minimum wage and a tax freeze promise on wages for those earning less than £80,000.

I do not believe in zero hour contracts.

I believe in eradicating rough sleeping and raising corporation tax to £26bn. I also believe in Excessive Pay Leverage, in taxing the top 5% and those earning over £80,000. I also believe in giving HMRC more teeth to go after UK companies who plough their profits into tax havens. The rich must pay their dues before a social crisis.

I believe in renationalising the trains and bringing them back under Government control. I also believe in free wifi on trains and freezing rail fare prices before reducing them gradually while investing in infrastructure. Over £100 to visit London before 9am is for the few, not the many.

I believe in renationalising Royal Mail and the National Grid.

I believe in scrapping university tuition fees, a higher education should be a right and not a privilege. However, the Tories have announced plans to fund new free schools (academies and grammar schools) by raising tuition fees. The Conservative manifesto states; “We will make it a condition for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools”. Universities themselves are concerned, Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, said “Universities need higher tuition fees simply because the government has cut their funding by over 80 per cent. If the fees of students are used to get more academies and free schools off the ground, this would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul but it would also side-line local parents and governors who might prefer to work with other sponsors.”

Meanwhile, free school meals for children from lower income families would be scrapped despite thousands spent on kitchens. In effect, our education system is becoming a system of entitlement.  To put figures into perspective, Tories gave a £100k tax cut p/a to 13,000 millionaires while they are removing school meals from the mouths of 900,000 kids. Dickensian.

I do not believe in a new Dementia tax for the elderly. This would mean elderly people who are receiving social care to fund the entire cost until they reached the last £100,000 of assets which the state would allow them to keep. Of course, the Tories have now made a u-turn but their intention was clear; taxing the vulnerable. The u-turn itself is also telling, going back on a repugnant proposal only because going through with it would cost them votes. The Tories even bought up Google advertisements to try and hide the ‘dementia tax’ as if the blunder was all but a figment of our imagination.

I also believe in maintaining the triple lock state pension guarantee and means-testing of winter fuel payments up to £300. I believe in caring for the elderly, not stripping them.

I believe in a properly funded NHS with free car parking, not one involving private consultancies. I also believe in restoring nurses’ training bursaries. I do not believe in dismantling the NHS piece by piece. I do not believe Jeremy Hunt has a conscience.

I do not believe in the loss of Disability Living Allowance. I do not believe in the rise of food banks. I do not believe in starving the poor and the needy.

I believe in a new Minister for Mental Health.

I do not believe in Boris Johnson as a functioning adult, can you imagine him negotiating with the EU as Foreign Secretary? The alternative is Keir Starmer LLB, QC and Barrister who is Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. A man with actual experience of persuasion in a court of law. No-brainer.

I believe in interest-free loans for homeowners to improve property.

I do not believe in unethical arms exports to the likes of Saudi Arabia, not with their human rights record.

I believe in banning the UK ivory trade, the Tories removed that pledge from their manifesto. Horrifying.

I do not believe in borrowing over £700bn over seven years with zero investment.

I do not believe in taking the internet under government control but a toughening up of punishments for online abuse.

I do not believe in fox hunting, Theresa May does.

I believe in renewable energy and clean air, not fracking. Germany has it right, not wholesale nationalisation but letting councils decide how to supply their energy and not relying on a few providers.

Strong and stable? What about the weak and vulnerable? I believe in fairness, I shall be voting Labour.

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Lifestyle, Opinion

Katie Hopkins – The High School Bully Given The Airtime She Desperately Craves

Let it be known that this has proven to be one of the hardest things I have ever committed to page. Put bluntly, there are certain people that should never be given the oxygen of publicity, the banteriffic Dapper Laughs as a recent example. Katie Hopkins also falls into this category and I am reminded of that luminous pink slime in Ghostbusters 2 which gets stronger the more hate it receives. I really do not want her to be an inspiration for anything, let alone my own writing, yet the poisonous witch is on her own personal crusade to inspire people to lose weight. Or so she thinks.

Any publicity is good publicity but I really do not want to help promote her dangerous new show, ‘Katie Hopkins: My Fat Story’. This is a woman who craves attention like The Daily Mail designs hate-fuelled headlines. A brief synopsis then; woman goes from 8st 12lb to 11st 13lb and back again to prove how easy it is to lose weight. No surprises that this is due to air in the first week of January when many are ruing those extra treats during the festive period. To have Hopkins choose to pile on the pounds to then smugly declare how easy it is to lose the weight is close to insulting yet she has history here.

Alarm bells should be ringing that her initial claim to fame came from The Apprentice, a show that rewards selfish, egotistical behaviour with a bumper business deal. This is a woman who really does not care what people think of her and seems to revel in the hatred that her poisonous views provoke. Anyone that can anger Holly Willoughby has to be a special case.

Let’s just check out some quotes from the show shall we –
Re: putting the weight on she said, “After I put on my first stone, I stopped having sex with my husband. As a fat bird, I stuck to my pyjamas and getting naked in the dark. A fat belly is not an attractive thing, fat people aren’t sexy”. This is to paint a poisonous picture of what the ‘universally perfect body’ is (hint, it doesn’t exist). There is a significant proportion of men who fail to find skinny girls sexy, are you going to try and persuade them otherwise Katie?

Later on she said, “It is just ridiculous what people do to themselves. Fat people, I mean I really I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror.” So ‘fat-shaming is in and beauty is not in the eye of the beholder then apparently. What this also spectacularly fails to note is that despite what Hopkins may hope, a significant amount of obese people are actually comfortable in their own skins, presumably by the support of their loved ones who actually do like seeing them naked.

According to Hopkins; “Being fat is hard work. You can’t be that fat and happy. If you’re too lazy to make a change then you’re going to be fat.” This is a mercilessly naïve statement which fails to address those that really do want to lose weight but for various reasons struggle. Some suffer from low metabolism rates as well as low self-esteem after trying various diets and not losing much weight. Some are suffering from crippling bouts of depression and find it hard to face the world, let alone go out for a run. Some lack the skills and time to cook healthy, nutritious meals for themselves.

If Hopkins really wanted to encourage obese people to lose weight she would, hopefully, be displaying a modicum of compassion. She would at least be trying to be helpful and sympathetic to obese people, maybe come up with a few healthy eating recipes of her own. Presumably we have seen this before and gotten bored of such noble behaviour from the likes of Jamie Oliver. Yet however disturbing her views on obese people are her methods are worryingly flawed, rapid fluctuations in weight have been proven as dangerous on the body, particularly the heart. Following Hopkins’ example is certainly not encouraged by any health practitioner.

Hopkins has the assumption that obesity is caused by apathy. In 2012 she told an obese woman that she wouldn’t employ her because fat people are lazy. This documentary is her chance to prove the misguided view that obese people are unwilling to lose weight. That is disputable, it can be incredibly difficult for a lot of people, it was for me.

Back in 2005 I was forced off alcohol and decided to go on a diet to lose some much needed weight. I had the time and know-how to cook my own meals but the most important thing was that I had the moral support of friends and family. The last thing I would have wanted was to see some smug TV personality tell me it’s easy. This isn’t an attack on freedom of speech, rather an attack on the editors and TV executives that allow her to be heard. Everyone is entitled to their view yet Hopkins is the high-school bully gifted a dangerous amount of publicity. The real contempt should not be aimed directly at her but at the media that continues to give her airtime.

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Lifestyle, Opinion, Uncategorized

Back to School, Gin School

“Doesn’t sound too hard to grow juniper berries then does it, Mum?” Only half an hour into the gin-making class and my interest is piqued. This is Gin Jamboree, a gin school held in the auspicious setting of Old School House in Tittensor. The first hour or so feels like being back at school, if this class was actually chemistry and instead of measuring the rate of evaporation we would be making a bottle of our own carefully crafted gin to take home.

One pagers are handed out to teach us how gin went from being brewed medicinally by the Dutch as ‘genever’ to becoming so popular with the British that their drunken mispronunciation birthed the name ‘gin’. To being the tipple of choice for William of Orange and instigating a trade war with the French to the Gin Craze when it became cheaper than beer and the poor literally went mad. The cocktail as we now know and love it started to come back into fashion when the British Royal Navy took cases of gin as a potential cure for various illnesses. Again, gin became medicinal and only the addition of Schweppes’ Indian tonic water made it drinkable then limes were added as an anti-scurvy measure.

Gin is now a £1.9bn industry in the UK and its popularity as a fashionable beverage began in 1999 with the launch of Hendrick’s Gin. Behind me are shelves heaving with bright and beautiful gin bottles, none of which would have existed unless Sipsmith’s successfully lobbied HMRC in 2009 to grant the first gin distillers license since 1820. There are now over 350 distilleries in the UK and the sheer variety means there should be a gin for everyone. Now it is my turn to work out what my own twist should be.

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For the entire, condensed history lesson there are five glasses sat temptingly in front of me. Finally a sheet is handed to us that fails to include any landmark dates and my tastebuds are primed. For a novice like me, for whom asking for a G&T is usually just a question of which brand behind the bar I have actually heard of, the fact that there are actually five different types pretty much blows my tiny mind. London Dry is the obvious one, I kinda knew about Plymouth Dry yet Old Tom, Genever and Gin Liquer are all new to me.

Few spirits are quite as versatile which encourages subtle tweeks to each cocktail. We learn of the importance of ice to open the gin up, encouraged to branch out to lemonade and ginger ale as mixers, how Schweppes dropped a clanger by bringing in sweeteners to their tonic and how the right garnish isn’t just for decoration. The ceiling may be high enough but school was never this fun.

Just as the rush of drinking gin samples before midday hits me we are led into our classroom which eerily does look like what I remember of a school chemistry lesson. Shelves of labelled jars, some decorated with toxic signs and others featuring ingredients you might have at home. A blackboard, measuring jugs, weighing scales, plastic tubes, ballpoint pens and huge wooden work benches. Unlike school, I am keen to get started.

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After a short tutorial of practical science into the art of distillation the creative side of my brain is fully engaged. Since learning of the class I have done a bit of homework. While the gin market is bursting with ideas, one of my favourite flavours is noted for its absence. Ever since a child I have adored liquorice, to the extent of buying a bag of allsorts safe in the knowledge that I can graciously offer the bag to friends and know that most won’t partake, meaning even more for me. As we go through the potential recipes I learn that liquorice root is readily available, then my Mum divulges that she’s making her own liquorice variety. Sigh.

This could be the start of a taste-off as we battle it out for who can best fill that liquorice shaped gap in the market. There could be millions at stake, and I graciously opt out. As I gaze at the shelves I wonder what other taste combinations are available. Liquorice now looks fairly obvious so I decide to go a bit rogue, aim for a little niche and make it my own. The base of every gin flavour board is obviously juniper berries yet second up is coriander seeds, after that it is a blank page. Key to my masterplan of cornering the gin market is subtlety; if liquorice offers division I want to open my flavour up to the world.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds’ Big Mac Sauce, Coca Cola and now… Citrus and Spice and All Things Nice Vol. 1. The combination seems straightforward, as if lightning has struck my brain, charged with inspiration. Orange twoways as a frozen segment then dried cut peel, slices of ginger peel, dried camomile flowers and orris root. The mix is precisely weighed and divided between jugs then left to macerate. Production has improved since those dark days in the 1700s when gin could be made with turpentine and sulphuric acid. Instead, my mix is poured into jugs of pure alcohol, itself a cruel but necessary measure for my beautiful flavour combination. Meanwhile, lunch.

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Citrus and Spice and All Things Nice Vol. 1

After an hour we are introduced to our apparatus; beautifully handmade copper Alembic stills. Almost Arabian in appearance yet we are making something stronger than tea. My mix is poured into the still, I tighten the valve, cover the coils in ice, turn up the heat and wait. And wait. While 80c is reached by the rest of the class in what feels like the time it takes to boil a kettle mine is still taking its sweet time. Good things come to those who wait and all that but my scheduled train looks in jeopardy at this rate. The accompanying drips sound like water torture and I continue to wait. Eventually I note that the still is angling off the heat with a gap of 2mm periodically robbing me of my sweet, sweet booze. Finally the mix begins to separate, water seeps out of one tube and after ten more minutes I raise my arms and celebrate the first drop of actual gin.

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These first drips are pretty much pure ethanol yet like any chef I cannot help myself and dip a paper straw into my new fangled masterpiece. Remarkably, after the alcohol burn has left my mouth I can still identify the ginger, and the orange and, incredibly, the camomile too. Even when I bake a simple cake I struggle to identify two flavours, let alone three. As the drips turn into hundreds of millilitres the alcohol concentration dissipates but not my enthusiasm. I continue to dip my straw in and can still pick out each flavour. The rest of the class are busy bottling up while I patiently add ice to the coil and let the vapour do the rest.

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As with any lesson, there is a test. My revision is years of home mixing and I soon realise that in order to win I need to go big. The mixer is a big risk and to complement the ginger peel I stick to my conviction that ginger ale is awaiting a return to the drinks market. Predictably, I add an orange segment to the garnish and four hours of intense classwork is being examined by a gin expert. Mine is the glass marked 3. My challengers are… My mother (2) and another middle-aged lady (1) who have both gone for liquorice and the experimental boysenberry based efforts of the teacher (4). I try the competition and without blowing my own trumpet too much announce to the rest of the class that, “if I was a betting man I’d know which one was the favourite”. Mine might be the only one that actually tastes like a gin you could buy in a fashionable bar, therein lies its appeal. Such is the appeal of gin that it is fascinating that these four distinctive concoctions all follow the same basic recipe.

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The judge comes over, tries each once, goes back to mine and 1 then puts down the straw. Number 3 she says, with an air of inevitability. The greater compliment is that she’d actually buy my gin. That’s right, I now have a certificate that pretty much states I know my gin plus I have the bottle to prove it and a renowned gin seller who wouldn’t mind stealing my recipe for herself.

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Film, Lifestyle, Opinion

London Film & ComicCon. No, you really SHOULD meet your heroes

They say never meet your heroes, you try telling that to the estimated 100,000 fans who will attend London Film & ComicCon over a single weekend. Or me, as my 5am alarm goes off and I begin my daytrip down to Olympia from Sheffield.

A few years ago the thought of me going to a ComicCon would have been met with cries of ‘No chance, nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd’. While meet ‘n’ greets and autograph hunting have been around since the 1960s over the last decade or so fan culture has become embedded in popular entertainment and society. We become obsessed with TV shows and film franchises to the extent that they consume our evenings and water cooler talk. The likes of Game of Thrones and the Infinity Saga by Marvel Studios have become so all-encompassing that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) takes hold. We become more intrinsically involved because, aside from the shows and their stories, there are the theories, the real-life filming locations, the celebrities and the merchandise. The resurrection of cinema coupled with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have meant that 21st century fantasies have now joined long-standing sagas like Dr Who, Star Wars and Star Trek. This weekend they all come together under one gigantic roof.

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Due to years of cajoling and simply to fit in I’ve decided to put on my black-rimmed glasses and a light blue checkered holiday shirt. No? Do I have to tell you I’m going as Will from The Inbetweeners? The cosplay on show is a lot more blatant with many going as their favourite incarnation of Dr Who (Jodie Whittaker’s coat looks popular across genders), The Joker and Harley Quinn with anime and sci-fi being big draws. The most impressive costumes look stolen from the silver screen with Chewbaccas, Ewoks, Darth Vader and his Imperial comrades, Wonder Women, Power Rangers, Ghostbusters, a couple of slimmed down Thanos’ and a single, foreboding Predator complete with vocal effects. As a mark of a show’s effect on its audience, those coming as Daenerys seem notably fewer than last year (awkward).

To dress up at a stag do or even a kid’s birthday party can feel begrudgingly obliging yet here you feel in the minority if you don’t. My effort is typically lacklustre which is in stark contrast to the vast minority who are brimming with excitement in the queue that winds round the gigantic building from the Kensington Olympia train station. There are bemused locals who have to share the route with costumed Whovians, Khaleesis and superheroes. For me, and the thousands of other attendees, this might be one of the few days a year when we don’t feel weird for liking the things we like as we’re surrounded by like-minded individuals.

For all the fervour, fans are well behaved. There is no over-zealous fawning, no queue jumping, no hysterical running and screaming. They pay attention to queuing lines made out on the ground from tape and wait patiently for their batch or ticket number to be called. The real stars of the show are the crew who make this shebang work. While fans spend hours waiting to pose next to one of their heroes there are staff who work tirelessly to make it happen as close to the schedule as possible. For the most popular photo areas, such as A, B, C and D featuring the likes of Christina Ricci, Jason Momoa and notable actors from Game of Thrones, batch numbers are bellowed out.

An electronic display would be ideal; without one chaos descends when Momoa runs late and his scheduled photo area is moved without any tangible announcement. Though summer has abated for the day it is still warm, water is scarce (expensive too) and sweat is plentiful. Plastic and paper souvenir photo holders are used as makeshift fans as if this is an airport lounge and flights are being delayed. Things understandably become a little desperate in the late afternoon during the PM slots for fans who missed their AM slot and those who left their booking late. They’ve paid their money but time is running out to grab their photo and a bit of that celebrity with it. Only a handful of red and blue crew members know that Momoa is behind schedule and, due to the increasing crowd, few can see if the queue is moving or not. One such hero is a Scottish, bearded man who candidly bellows batch announcements atop a chair to project his voice across the simmering pool of thousands of estrogen-addled women that surrounds him. Like a gameshow host he shouts, “Batches 1 to 20, come on down” and hundreds of women scream as they know they’ll get to meet Momoa in a matter of minutes.

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Despite the demand, the queues filter out quickly as a slick conveyor belt of ticket checking, bag dumping, photo taking and retrieval means that hundreds of fans can be seen in half an hour. My stress of being double booked between Gemma Whelan and Blake Harrison is quickly diminished when I figure out I can zip through Harrison’s slot before Whelan’s late running shoot has effectively even begun. It also helps that both actors are as lovely as imagined even though they have to smile for hours on end with absolute strangers. Indeed, for the most part the actors are bona fide pleasant with the odd exception being a former Dr Who who looks like he might throw someone off a roof and a bustling William Shatner who told me to ‘MOVE OUT OF THE WAY’. Though there are signs forbidding it, some actors oblige fans when they ask for a quick photo and an autograph. Franco Nero relents but the photos are without a smile. However, he does smile for my friend Jessica when HE asks HER to take his photo in front of his stand (a particular highlight).

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This is a convention first and foremost where comic artists, authors, artists, cosplayers and film-makers can meet the people who make them make their living. There are wrestlers from the 1980’s who look like they could still handle themselves, film-makers, voice artists and stuntmen stepping out into the open as well as established actors and film stars. For them this is a chance to keep their name in the public interest whereas for others it’s a chance to see how big an impact their creation is having or continues to have.

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In my tight circle of friends I might be the only one who can quote Back to the Future line by line yet there are fans queuing to get an the autograph with the film’s writer, Bob Gale, who know the film even more intimately than me. While I can play it cool, others are vibrating with excitement as they hold a poster they have cherished since childhood that has already been signed by the films leads; Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. After queuing for over ten minutes for the second time (even celebrities need lunch breaks) I finally meet Gale and despite clearly suffering from jetlag he is as gracious as I imagine. After slipping the assistant my required £20 he writes out my favourite quote onto the first issue of the comic book series which is based on the show. For those wondering, ‘If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything’.

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The atmosphere is celebratory, bereft of the commercial interests that pervade the industry. From a fans perspective, they are more than happy to shell out the £25 entry fee if it means being in the same space as the creative souls that entertain them. If it means asking that one question they have always wanted to ask of their favourite character actor they will gladly pay upwards of £75 for an autograph. This is the only place I’m able to find out why there will be no Back to the Future 4 (because you can’t imagine it without Michael J Fox) and how big a risk it was firing Eric Schultz. That information alone is well worth the 5am alarm.

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Film, Lifestyle, Opinion

Diversity and the changing faces of Marvel Studios as they unveil Phase 4

In 1889, Oscar Wilde opined in his essay ‘The Decay of Lying’ that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life’. It’ll go down as one of those philosophical sayings that no-one truly knows the answer to. Yet in 2019, in an era of #MeToo and striving for individual rights against a backdrop of toxic white masculinity, Wilde may have had more to consider. Part of the hope that the times are indeed a-changing comes from art and more specifically, popular cinema. Marvel Studios have been at the forefront of this sea change and have gone even further with the unveiling of their Phase 4 plans.

Just when Avengers: Endgame officially became the highest grossing film of all-time you would have thought we’d reached Peak Superhero Movies. Not a bit of it. Marvel have seen fit to unveil ten projects as part of their Phase 4 which begins next year. While the sheer volume of creative output may stupify and set jaws to drop it is the open diversity on show that really draws you in. Indeed, the roster of Phase 1 back in 2008 reads like the male changing room to today’s diverse, global, representative boardroom. Still with capes. But more vampires. And kung-fu. And LGBTQ.

Remember, this all began with a rather outlandish looking punt on Robert Downey Jr portraying (and nailing) Tony Stark in Iron Man eleven years ago. The unadulterated arrogance of his performance led the way for the MCU and gave the studio the confidence to crack on. The largely forgettable The Incredible Hulk followed then Downey’s return in Iron Man 2, the introduction of Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger before the team-up of The Avengers in 2012.

Each of those films centres on, or at least features, a female love interest who for one reason or another panders to the male superhero(es). You have to have some sympathy for Pepper Potts in the first Iron Man as she’s seen handing Christine Evehart her clothes back then as she edges closer to Tony is then left alone on the roof as he flies off to save some faraway town. Betty Ross should be known as a scientist and professor at Culver University but is best known for a primer designed to allow Banner to effectively become Hulk. Another brilliant scientist was Jane Foster yet she manages to fall for the gargantuan stylings of Thor when he drops down to Earth.

As Phase 1 progressed, so did the female characters. Captain Steve Rogers admittedly had little, if any, experience with girls so naturally found it difficult to impress Peggy Carter though unbeknown to him he did manage it. Even before he became Captain America his heroism in jumping on a grenade and candidly lowering the flag were exactly the kind of smarts that gained her attention. Of course, once he stepped out with bulging arms Carter found his physical form rather appealing too yet she’d already been won over by his sensibilities. The first sense of women being treated as equals in this newly fangled world of caped, suited heroes was in The Avenges when Black Widow held her own amidst all the testosterone.

Could you get away with that now? Probably not. While the DCEU stole a march by giving Wonder Woman her own feature, the glass ceiling was well and truly smashed by Captain Marvel being unveiled as the most powerful Avenger. While many thought she would defeat Thanos herself in Endgame she still held her own as impressively as the combination of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Part of the joy of that final fight scene, and the film itself, is the prominence of the female characters. Sure, it may have appeared shoe-horned yet when Danvers needed an assist the Gauntlet was escorted by an impromptu Female Avengers team-up of Scarlet Witch, Valykrie, The Wasp, Pepper Potts, Mantis, Gamora, Shuri and Okoye. Danvers got help yet this was a powerful nod that women were no longer makeweights but vital to the story.

Finally the MCU is giving Black Widow her own film. A black vampire will be (re)introduced. Kung-Fu is in. Yes, there was a gay moment in Endagame yet there is the affirmation that Tessa Mae Thompson has declared gay rights in the MCU which went down to wild approval in the San Diego Comic Con. Her portrayal of Valykrie in Thor: Love and Thunder will indeed openly introduce LGBTQ into the superhero world. The actress herself is bisexual which should be irrelevant because who cares who you lay with when you can whoop someone’s ass on screen and in real-life?

Those who boycotted Captain Marvel and accused the studio of hating half of its audience must now be seething yet when the business is booming this is a risk well worth taking, inherently for the greater good. With such a huge audience there is a sense that the studio has a duty to reflect society in all its forms. The studio that took its time to feature women and black actors now has a roster of ethnicties included. Their first Asian lead will be Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fulfilling the wish/tweet of the actor himself from three years ago. The Eternals will feature Middle Eastern, Latin and Pakistani leads, more importantly the film will portray a deaf hero. This isn’t just ticking boxes for the sake of it, two time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali will become the first Muslim actor to lead an MCU film when he reboots Blade.

The world is changing and so are our superheros. Eleven years ago we looked at Robert Downey Jr as the latest superhero to follow the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-man et al. As with a lot of society, white men largely set the tone and were singularly portrayed as the heroes. Marvel’s Phase 4 reflects society in its sheer diversity; female, Asian, Muslim and LGBTQ are all given a stage to shine. If art is to imitate life then Marvel have looked to show the next generation that it doesn’t matter what your gender, race, religion or sexual orientation is to be a hero.

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Opinion, TV

The Final, Final Things I Want To See In Game of Thrones

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We are in the endgame now and after one of the most divisive episodes yet the rush to the finish enters its final chapter. While we may not agree with how the storytelling has developed, the conclusion could set all that right. King’s Landing has been destroyed and Dany has what she always wanted, are there any more twists left?

  1. Closure. With so many loose ends to tie up, the final ever episode has to bring about the end. What that now looks like and represents is up in the air following ‘The Bells’. Coming into the final season, many fans would have thought Dany would be the ideal candidate to end on the Iron Throne. She seemed like a just queen yet that all changed when she went full Dracarys on the innocent civilians of the capital. This may have always been an outlined bullet point of her story yet the rush to the end negated to include that one final trigger to push her over the edge that the moment really needed. The tension towards the Lannister army’s surrender was superbly crafted, all that remained was a final shot at Dany to set her off, a rogue scorpion bolt after the bells had rung. Having said that, the moment Dany snapped did not look to be a spontaneous decision, rather years of suffering being bottled up and released after even more betrayals. Having lost her trusted advisors she’s now alone and a Targaryen alone is something to be truly feared. She wasn’t always like this but having lost Jon’s love and the best claim to the throne, having lost Jorah, Rhaegal, Viserion, Missandei, Drogo and Barristan Selmy you can see where her sharp, villainous turn originated and developed. Amidst the fire and blood soaked carnage there was a moment when Jon realised his Northern troops had wrested from his command to bludgeon, rape and pillage. Jon was now fighting for the bad guys, Dany was the tyrant and even Cersei garnered some sympathy. Even the most honourable characters like Jon Snow remain good until the end; you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Subversion has been the story’s trump card and though this flip to the dark side has been foreshadowed, few wanted to believe that Dany could fulfil her father’s final wishes and burn them all. Similarly, her father truly descended into madness when he realised his Hand had betrayed him, one Tywin Lannister. The story has now come full circle with a Mad Queen and the thought of Dany ending on the throne has a typically bittersweet, ashen taste to it. Perhaps this is George R.R. Martin telling us that humans were the true threat all along and not the White Walkers. Power corrupts after all and Dany now rules through fear. How the story ends will tell us a lot about what we were supposed to learn.
  2. Someone on the Iron Throne. Further subversion would be that no-one ends up on the Iron Throne, even if it remains intact. If Dany was to ‘break the wheel’, Drogon could be ordered to melt the throne and end the whole feudal system that it represents. There are echoes to this in British history with the formation of Parliament to sate the changing desire of the Royal Family. Thrones could follow a similar path with the end of one overarching ruler in favour of kingdoms being self-governed and overseen by a council. Should the bittersweet ending be someone becoming a Queenslayer then Jon would naturally assume the throne. He’s said repeatedly that he doesn’t want it so there is the thought that he could decree a new order, a new power structure and a new way forward for The Realm. Bran could become Prime Minister, Sansa Queen of The North, Sam Grand Maester etc. Yet with Dany gone, you have to wonder what would become of The Unsullied and The Dothraki, would they meekly return home? Also, how would you deal with Drogon?
  3. Gendry to land a telling blow with his warhammer. Still waiting.
  4. Jon Snow rides Rhaegon. 
  5. Revealed: Tyrion is also a Targaryen.
  6. Revealed: The identity and motive of The Night King. Likely to be included in the prequel which is under development.
  7. The Valonqar prophecy comes true. Cersei did die with Jaime’s hands around her throat but he wasn’t wresting the life from her.
  8. CLEGANEBOWLLLLLLL. And it was glorious.
  9. Arya ticks off her kill list. And that’s everyone, she could still add The Mad Queen. She is also yet to use her face-swapping talents in this season.
  10. Theon’s redemption against Euron
  11. Happy endings. As Ramsay said, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention”
  12. Bran warging into ViserionBran has barely used his warging capabilities this season and if he is to truly fly perhaps his destiny is to warg into Drogon and placate the dragon while someone else kills Dany. He also has form in calming potentially volatile characters as we saw with his warging into Hodor.
  13. Samwell Tarly becomes George R.R. Martin. In the final scene I can now envisage him penning the Story of Ice and Fire then reading it to even littler Sam as if he was George R.R. Martin. He kinda looks like him too, maybe that was the plan all along.
  14. The Prince That Was Promised. While I did think this was Arya for ending The Night King I now think this could be Jon for killing Dany. If so, it would confirm Rhaegar’s lineage as being responsible for the prophecy.
  15. Jon somehow manages to either keep the secret that he’s True King of The Seven Kingdoms under wraps or tells the relevant people and still gets to keep everyone onside. Even though Dany has claimed the throne by brute force and flame, the secret of Jon’s lineage has been unleashed. Whether Jon wants it or not, few can truly stomach Dany’s claim now they’ve seen how corrupted by power and bloodlust she has become. However, now she has shown her true hand it’s doubtful anyone could perform treason without being burned, that’s the effect of ruling through fear. How the remaining characters deal with her tyranny should bring this whole story to a close.
  16. Cersei denies that the Battle of Winterfell ever actually happened and claims fake news. 

And some bonuses –

    • Starks coming back as wights in the crypts. 
    • Ghost somehow getting through the battle alive.
    • Cersei lets people believe that the baby is Euron’s and not Jaime’s. Just to mess with people. 
    • No Lannister troops are heading up North. They never were. 
    • Sansa comes to realise that she has to back Dany or risk losing the Last War before it’s even begun. 
    • Jaime fights for the living then teams up with Tyrion to defeat Cersei, both of them know her and King’s Landing far too well to let this opportunity slip.  And in the latest installment of how character development doesn’t matter anymore, Jaime is truly a fuckboy.
    • Bronn has a crisis of conscience when faced with aiming a crossbow at either Jaime or Tyrion.  If he does want Highgarden he needs to aim at Drogon.
    • Daario persuades The Golden Company to fight against Cersei.  Ha, the Golden Company. What good they were.
    • Danaery’s fulfils her father’s intent and burns down King’s Landing. 
    • Drogon has given birth to triplets.
    • Tyrion finally redeems himself with some wise decisions. He’s proven ineffectual at persuading his Queen. When she finds out he betrayed her to free his brother he’ll have to work very hard just to avoid becoming toast.
    • No cavalry to the rescue. There are few armies left yet there’s still a chance for someone to become a hero.
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The Final Things I Want To See In Game of Thrones (8.4 update)

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With this being the final season, every scene in Game of Thrones seems to have something riding on it. Whether it be a long-awaited reunion, a brutal battle scene or the most earth-shattering news, things are HAPPENING. Now that The Night King and his Army of Dead have been defeated, focus turns to King’s Landing and the Last War.

For the timebeing I can knock a few names off my Death Pool and still wonder who’ll survive. Of those remaining there are character arcs left to be completed and the Last War is still to come.

  1. Someone on the Iron Throne. Anyone! However, I’m now warming to the possibility of the throne being destroyed at the end of all this. When you consider what Daenerys has lost to get to this point you can see why. Khal Drogo, her unborn son, Jorah, most of the Dothraki and Unsullied, Rhaegal, Viserion, Missandei and now arguably Jon with her claim to the throne. She has threatened to break the wheel and if she has her way I can see the throne being melted and the feudal system abolished. Given how strained her relationship with Jon could become and the way he recoiled from her now he knows they’re related hints that the fairytale finish of them ruling side by side looks to be just that. Doubtful too whether Jon WANTS to be the True King given all that Daenerys has lost to get to this point while he would have it on a technicality. As the final season reaches its climax expect three suitors for the crown (Dany, Jon and Cersei) to be reduced to two then one. Incidentally it’s Mother’s Day in America meaning that in typically cruel fashion either the Mother of Dragons or Cersei could meet their end. A bittersweet ending is to be expected, could it be that Dany and Jon defeat Cersei only to argue over who gets to rule? With Jon being the True King as the remaining male Targaryen heir and Dany starting to lose her mind it would be a shame if the show ended with a tyrant whose reign could spark another war as there’s a suitor with a greater claim who doesn’t even want the throne. Then again, one of the show’s great markers is to subvert the expected.
  2. Gendry to land a telling blow with his warhammer (not a euphemism). There’s still time for this in King’s Landing on his home turf.
  3. Jon Snow rides RhaegonHe’s got some practice in now too. And that’s all the practice he’s ever going to get.
  4. Revealed: Tyrion is also a Targaryen. Pfft, little chance of that now considering the palaver that Jon has caused telling Dany.
  5. Revealed: The identity and motive of The Night King. Was he truly after Bran? Did he want an heir in the form of another baby? Who was he before he became The Night King?
  6. The Valonqar prophecy comes true. Now that Arya has killed The Night King it’s doubtful she’d also claim Cersei, even wearing Jaime’s face. Now he’s left Brienne to head to King’s Landing, maybe it’ll be left to Jaime himself to kill his sister or perhaps Bronn will turn on her. You get the impression this isn’t the last we’ll see of the sellsword and he’ll have a final kill left in him. Considering the prophecy, one line now sticks out. ‘Queen you shall be… until there comes another, younger and more beautiful’. I’ve always interpreted that as being someone female yet Jaime has always been considered handsome and the prettier of the two siblings. Jaime looks to be turning away from his sister and her evil ways and going closer to her throat.
  7. CLEGANEBOWLLLLLLL. It’s so on. Especially if it’s the one thing that’ll make The Hound happy.
  8. Arya ticks off her kill list. The Hound (though Arya did confirm he was no longer on the list), Meryn Trant, Cersei Lannister, Joffrey, Ilyn Payne, Polliver, The Mountain (debatable whether you can still count that monstrosity as him), RorgeWalder FreyTywin Lannister, Melisandre, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. She’s killed The Night King, could she really claim Cersei too?
  9. Theon’s redemption against Euron. At least he redeemed himself as a good man in the eyes of Bran, sorry, the Three Eyed Raven.
  10. Happy endings. Brienne rejected Tormund, then he was cockblocked then Jaime left her for his sister then Arya turned down Gendry’s proposal to be the Lady of Storm’s End then Missandei lost her head and Jon has turned away from Dany and WON’T THERE BE ANY HAPPY COUPLES ON THIS SHOW!?
  11. Bran warging into ViserionWhat was Bran doing during the Battle of Winterfell if he wasn’t even trying to do this?
  12. Samwell Tarly becomes George R.R. Martin. In the final scene of the final episode I can now envisage him penning the history of Game of Thrones then reading it to even littler Sam as if he was George R.R. Martin. He kinda looks like him too, maybe that was the plan all along.
  13. The Prince That Was Promised. This could have been fulfilled. According to the prophecy, Lightbringer is a sword of legend that’s wielded by Azor Ahai, chosen by the Lord of Light to fight the darkness. Melisandre, as a disciple of the Lord of Light, gave the pep talk to Arya to shut ‘Ol Blue Eyes so that makes sense with Arya being Azor Ahai. That would mean that Lightbringer could be the dagger. Hear me out as this is no ordinary blade. Many believe that Jon would be Azor Ahai, indeed Kit Harrington was ‘pissed’ that it wasn’t him killing the Night King and ending The Long Night though the writers have known for three years. The book hints that The Prince That Was Promised was meant to be his father, Rhaegar. However, this reasoning doesn’t necessarily rule out Rhaegar’s role as the sword is meant to radiate heat; given he’s a Targaryen and the dagger’s hilt is made of dragonbone there’s still a heavy dragon influence there. Rhaegar is also said to be the original owner of the dagger and when Bran asked Littlefinger who the dagger belonged to, Littlefinger assumed it’s previous owner when perhaps Bran meant Rhaegar. There’s also history behind the blade itself as it likely came into the possession of Robert Baratheon after he killed Rhaegar at The Trident and of course it was then used in the Bran assassination attempt that kicked this whole thing off. That’s one legendary blade right there, fitting for the prophecy. There’s also the fact that Arya has been trained to become the most feared assassin and would have earned legendary status.
  14. Jon somehow manages to either keep the secret that he’s True King of The Seven Kingdoms under wraps or tells the relevant people and still gets to keep everyone onside. While Ned kept the secret for 18 years now practically everyone knows who Jon really is (nice one, Sansa). This means Dany’s claim is even more undermined and soon enough the entire kingdom will know. However much Jon sounded like a True King in his opening speech he doesn’t want the throne. Likely, his own sense of duty will be the end of him, as it was for Ned. ‘Even if the truth destroys us’, because that’s what happens in Westeros.
  15. Cersei denies that the Battle of Winterfell ever actually happened and claims fake news. No photos, no videos so she can put her fingers in her ears and deny there ever was a battle. Hell, most of us watching didn’t see all of it anyway.

And some bonus things I want to see –

    • Starks coming back as wights in the crypts. Called it.
    • Ghost somehow getting through the battle alive. He definitely deserved at least a farewell pat and a hug though the CGI budget denied it.
    • Cersei lets people believe that the baby is Euron’s and not Jaime’s. Just to mess with people. Called it.
    • No Lannister troops are heading up North. They never were. Yup
    • Sansa comes to realise that she has to back Dany or risk losing the Last War before it’s even begun. Then again, she’s also playing the long game in ensuring the future of the North even if it does strain their relationship. Her letting people know of Jon’s rightful claim will only piss Dany off more.
    • Jaime fights for the living then teams up with Tyrion to defeat Cersei, both of them know her and King’s Landing far too well to let this opportunity slip. Still a goer.
    • Bronn has a crisis of conscience when faced with aiming a crossbow at either Jaime or Tyrion. Less a crisis of conscience and more a declaration of intent.
    • Daario persuades The Golden Company to fight against Cersei. They’re mercenaries, plus there is some mention in the book of a long-ago Targaryen link having been founded by Ser Aegor Rivers, a legitimized bastard of King Aegon IV Targaryen. Also, Danaerys could really do with some help.
    • Danaery’s fulfils her father’s intent and burns down King’s Landing. She’s certainly starting to lose her shit.
    • Drogon has given birth to triplets. There’s also a weird rumour going around that explains Drogon’s absence in season five can be explained that he (she?) was away giving birth to triplets. Part of the rumour is based on the new opening credits featuring what appears to be a dragon and three smaller dragons. Let’s see how Euron would deal with that!
    • Tyrion finally redeems himself with some wise decisions. Either he’s a terrible Hand or he’s betraying Danaerys with some sizably questionable decisions. There’s also the thought of whether Euron was tipped off. If there’s a chance to prove his worth and condemn his sister, will he take it?
    • No cavalry to the rescue. This is the endgame and while it would be classic TV storytelling to have a hero return and ride to the rescue I’d much prefer to see these remaining characters play it to the end. That does mean it’s the last we’ll see of Yara, Tormund, Daario, and Ja’qen.
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