2017: A year in review.

Happy New Year’s Eve! Or Hogmanay as we celebrate in the Frozen North, a word that causes a fair amount of consternation everywhere else.

As is customary at this time of year, we look back on the past twelve months and reflect. I’m not going to waste my time on some of the crap bits of 2017 – of which there were mercifully few. Instead, here’s the things that happened this year that made it an absolute belter.

I got engaged

After two years of shit jokes and nerd stuff, Sean decided that I was tolerable enough and marrying me wasn’t the worst idea in the world.

It wasn’t rose petals, candles and writing my name in the sand. He casually sidled up to me at work after failing to find one of those flexible rulers and said “what ring size are you? I’m just curious.” Being not stupid, I twigged on what he was up to, and he proposed in the middle of our living room with a picture of the ring on his iPhone, much to the delight of our family and friends. It’s a story I’ll likely never get tired of telling.

We’re getting married in the summer of 2019, which means that this year I should probably organise stuff. This’ll be a laugh.

bridge
At least we booked the venues. Behold!

So did my sister

Not one hour after my sister had accompanied me to a wedding fair and seen more dresses she’d like than I had, her boyfriend of six years proposed. I gather Andrew was more subtle than Sean was. Very excited to be involved in a wedding that is not my own. As well as my own, obviously.

We all went to Orlando

After multiple evenings spent weeping from envy and nostalgia in my parents’ living room, I finally got to step into Disneyworld after fifteen years. I can’t really say more about it than I did in this blog post, but I’ve managed to convince Sean that we should go back for our honeymoon.

florida
Sun, cloudless sky, and Disney. Words don’t do it justice.

Forth Magic was born

2016 saw the doors close for the last time on our regular Magic: the Gathering venue. Not to be deterred, some of my best friends and I managed to band together to secure a venue (the excellent Yellow Café in Rosyth), organise our own events, and keep the momentum even as an unsanctioned playgroup. We even ran our own PPTQ before we unfortunately lost our sanctioning.

The Scottish MtG is one of the best communities that I know and I’m very proud to be involved in contributing to that.

The best video on the internet arrived

Have you seen the video of the Fleming family attempting to remove a rogue bat from their kitchen in County Kerry? If not, please experience it right now.

There was a new addition to the McArmstrong family

In Octover, after months of wondering whether or not Stella was lonely and unstimulated while we were out at work all day, we decided to get another cat. Thus Brando came into our lives.

brando

I’m not sure Stella has forgiven us yet. She was a laid back, delicate, deliberate kitten. Brando is a feline wrecking ball, bereft of any sense of danger or decency, prone to jumping on her without notice and ignoring any hissing and smacks on the head she doles out. He’s a cuddler, a curtain climber, a bottomless pit, and we love him. Even Stella’s been caught licking him when she thinks nobody is looking.

I wish he’d grow out of licking my ears when he wants fed, though.

I started this blog

My greatest achievement of this year has been this blog. I’ve started blogs before, but writer’s block and self-consciousness saw them fall into the pile of stuff I’ve started and ploughed into before my motivation dribbled away and died. I’ve made my mother cry, my friends routinely tell me how much they enjoy reading it (even if it is for the tone and sarcasm and not the content, right Dan?) and I’ve amassed 40 blog followers and over 100 Facebook followers since I started. I’m hardly a big fish, but I’m pretty pleased with myself.

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2017 was a good year. I’m currently in the holiday mood where everything is winding down and brand new at the same time, so expect a post about 2018 and where I hope it takes me very soon…

On Happy Pills, or “shut up Daily Mail”.

The Daily Mail are at it again.

Anyone see this headline emblazoned across their front page yesterday?

daily mail

Once I’d gotten over my disbelief (even now I continue to be surprised by trash, like finding a raccoon in my wheelie bin) I was infuriated. So this one’s for you, Daily Mail, and anyone else who believes this dangerous crap.

Let’s get this straight, first of all. They’re not “happy pills”. They’re not tablets your GP will hand out like Haribo on a wet Monday morning. Britain’s not hooked on a chemical shortcut to a good day.

What Ben Shepherd, Medical Correspondent is referring to is the group of medications known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs. Medication. Like you’d get for diabetes, or high blood pressure.

They’re prescribed for a number of mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, and they basically work by slightly increasing the amount of serotonin – the stuff that makes you feel happy – in the brain to counteract chronic low mood and anxiety. They’re not opioids. They don’t induce addiction or physical dependency.

They take the edge off. They gently relieve the unbearable struggle. They let you regain your footing when the world feels like it’s falling away beneath you. They lift the albatross. They stop the wild oscillation of anxiety that renders you incapable of function.

That’s what SSRIs do. They make being alive seem less like an ordeal. But that’s not going to sell papers. So let’s sensationalise an illness that kills more men under 50 than anything else in the UK.

Throwing around the idea that “Britain is hooked on happy pills” like they’re fidget spinners is vile. It’s not trendy to take antidepressants. The line “Experts last night said patients were demanding a quick fix to avoid feeling down” is staggering. Imagine reading the same headline about insulin for diabetics. Experts last night said patients were demanding a quick fix to avoid dying.

Mental illness kills. SSRIs save lives.

I was going to pose this as an open letter to the Mail but I thought, what’s the point? They’re hysterical and completely tone deaf. Instead, I’ve written it here in the hope that the perspective of someone who’s actually experienced both horrendous mental health problems and the way that medication for mental illness can pull you back over the precipice.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and make the decision to speak to your doctor about it, don’t balk at the idea of medication. Don’t listen to idiots like Ben Spencer, Medical Correspondent, who really should know better.

In fact, do youself a favour and just don’t read the Daily Mail.

Have a Hallmark Jolly Christmas

Disappointed that Christmas is over? Here’s a fun way to prolong the festive spirit: curating next year’s movie schedule. Forget Elf and Jingle All The Way: tacky made for TV movies are where the real magic is. Sometimes.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my Granny over the past few weeks and we’ve watched a veritable plethora of films of varying quality. For your viewing entertainment next year – or this year, if you can’t bear to give up the festive spirit yet – here is a rundown of some of the most memorable that graced the TV this year.

A Christmas Reunion

Premise: New York hotshot comes back to small town in the wake of her aunt’s death, only to find that the other benefactor of her aunt’s bakery is her ex-boyfriend. They decide to run the bakery and the traditional holiday baking competition for one more Christmas.

This is a good place to start. As soft as marshmallow fluff and so happy you’ll be able to feel the enamel corroding off your teeth.

Verdict: That’s all I can find to say about it, which is a decent signal of how inoffensive it is. Would watch agan.

Chasing Christmas

Premise: miserable old arsehole has banned Christmas because his wife cheated on him one year. A Christmas Carol retelling with a twist. The twist is that Christmas Past gives up and goes on a bender.

Most of the movies I watched I enjoyed on at least some superficial level. This one was trash, but not good trash, like the trash you find in the reduced section in Tesco at 10:30pm.

The main character is obnoxious beyond words. The Ghost of Christmas Present is so stereotypically dim you’ll want to strangle her. There’s a romantic subplot that will make you throw up in your mouth, and it’s all so bad you’re constantly wishing for the sweet release of death.

The real MVP is Miserable Old Arsehole’s teenage daughter, who can’t hide her dislike of him. You and me both, hen.

Verdict: Avoid. Do literally anything else instead.

My Christmas Dream

Premise: Department store manager is in charge of legendary annual Christmas display, with a high- profile job in Paris at stake. This is very stressful for her, given that she apparently has no imagination. Her heart is warmed by a little boy, who turns out to be the son of a painter she fired the day before. Of course he is.

How do you make a Christmas movie more heartwarming? Add a precocious, blue eyed blonde haired six year old boy, who absolutely steals the show amongst the generic offering of Christmas Romcom Characters.

It also boasts the most celebrity appearance of any of the films I saw, with Danica McKellar playing the store manager.

Verdict: Cute. Most likely to make you cry if you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine.

On The Twelfth Day of Christmas

Premise: journalist starts sending anonymous secret santa presents to the radio DJ she fancied at uni when she finds out he hates Christmas now.

In the pantheon of shit Christmas movies I saw this year, this was the pinnacle. I loved it. It had characters I genuinely enjoyed – yes, even the crabbit grinchy one – and it’s the only one where I’ve actively shipped the main characters. Very good.

Verdict: would watch again. In fact, will be looking through the Channel 5 TV guide to see when it’s on again next year.

A Christmas Prince

Premise: Journalist accidentally ends up posing as governess for (presumably) European royal family. There’s an attractive, reluctant prince.

The most livetweeted Christmas movie of the year, courtesy of Netflix. Imagine being stuck in a fur-lined cuddle between The Princess Diaries, The Sound of Music and any rom com. That’s The Christmas Prince. It’s tacky. It’s awful. I couldn’t turn it off. It’s become an internet sensation, the most unmissable Christmas film of the year.

Although I must know the answer to one of life’s biggest questions: why is it, according to the accents, that every made up European principality is located somewhere in Berkshire?

Verdict: 10/10 would get drunk and make fun of with friends every year.

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Please let me know if I’ve missed any howlers from my list. I’m on the lookout for additions to next year’s list…

And it’s still not too late to watch A Christmas Prince. I’m just saying.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Boxing Day! I hope everyone had a great day yesterday. I’ve spent the weekend at my parents’ house, sleeping in my old bedroom with my dad’s golf clubs and dartboard, my mum’s collection of cacti, and both cats. Said cats are the reason I nearly took a cactus to the face in the night.

room

Here’s how I’ve spent Christmas:

  • Went to my wedding reception venue, ate the best beef I have ever had and drank so much gin I had a hangover on Christmas Eve.
  • Disappointed my mother with my drinking. Not because I was drunk, but because I wasn’t keeping up with her due to said hangover.
  • Was quite delighted with my Kindle Fire from my parents (Thanks Mummy and Daddy Mac) and celebrated by downloading A Christmas Carol. Which I’m enjoying more than I thought I would, given that in the past I’ve generally found the “classics” to be unavoidably dull.
  • Drank a lot. Including this excellent gin from my mother in law. Which I’m now tipsy on.

gin

  • Was pipped to the post in the family “Who Am I?” quiz, but redeemed myself by crushing the family music quiz shortly afterwards.
  • Got my sister to teach me how to do my makeup properly. I think my first attempt at winged eyeliner hasn’t gone too badly.

me

  • Was ill and at risk of missing the Boxing Day Dinner Extravanganza due to the fact that I spent two hours in the middle of the night lying on my back sweating and feeling dreadfully sick.

Whether you had a great Christmas or a shite one, I hope you enjoy the rest of the holiday (as I refuse to recognise the time between Christmas and New Year as a real week) in whatever way you see fit. With your friends, with your family, by yourself, in your house, in the pub, in your pyjamas. Be kind to yourself.

 

Book review | A Shiver of Snow and Sky by Lisa Lueddecke

asosas

On the frozen island of Skane, the sky speaks. Beautiful lights appear on clear nights, and their colours have meaning: Green means all is well, and the Goddess is happy. Blue means a snow storm is on the way.

And then there’s red. Red is rare. A warning.

Seventeen years ago, the sky turned red just as Ósa was born, unleashing a plague that claimed the lives of hundreds of villagers, including her own mother. This time, when the night sky once again bleeds crimson, she must discover how to stop the onslaught before so many lives are lost again.

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Buying books based on the cover can be a hit and miss approach. I’ve read some turgid books because they look pretty. Fortunately, A Shiver of Snow and Sky is both stunning AND excellent.

There’s fantasy, there’s magic, there’s heart. Beautiful book, beautiful words. Lisa Lueddecke dumps you headfirst into a crisis and it doesn’t really let up until the end.

The heroine, Ósa, will break your heart and have you punching the air in the same breath. The world is so deliciously chilly and evocative that you can imagine every burn of he snow and boat on the water. The switch between the points of view in the narrative is awesome because it lines up the contrast between Ósa’s surreal journey and the much more grim events in the villages. My only negative takeaway was that I thought the ending was a little abrupt, which was disappointing, but it was a very minor blip in what was a brilliant debut.

There’s still time to pick one up as a gift for a reader you know – it’s the perfect book for a chilly holiday night. It reminded me in a lot of ways of Skyrim, so if you know anyone who’s ever had their life consumed by The Elder Scrolls, why not send them a copy of this for the holidays?

Serving suggestion: Christmas tree lights, hot chocolate and Baileys, gentle snowfall.

asosas pic

Have a green Christmas!

You’ve all seen Blue Planet 2 with natural history guru and nationally protected treasure David Attenborough, right? I’ve seen bits of it, but the general gist seems to be: humans suck. Which I knew already, but it somehow seems more poignant in David Attenborough’s dulcet tones.

As I gather, an ongoing theme of the series has been pollution, particularly plastic pollution, of the world’s water. Who is ever going to forget the footage of that poor mother pilot whale dragging her baby around? Seals eating plastic bags because they mistake them for jellyfish, seabirds getting tangled in floating plastic…these are all real things that happen.

Fortunately, reducing the amount of plastic you send to landfill is possible. Some are obvious, and some I’ve learned from experience – but I guarantee it’s easier to make a difference than you think! Here’s what you can do:

Recycle at home

This is by far the easiest one. Most (if not all) local authorities provide kerbside facilities such as wheelie bins for plastic recycling, so drinks bottles, food containers etc can be put in these and collected. Make sure you check that what you’re putting in can actually be processed by kerbside recycling facilities – and wash everything out before you put it in, or it’ll go mouldy!

Don’t buy single use carrier bags

Fun fact: plastic bags, along with clingfilm, can’t go in your kerbside recycling facility. This is because they frequently jam the machinery at the recycling facilities, costing time and money. Currently the destination for plastic wraps and carrier bags is landfill – and potentially the sea.

The best way to prevent this is to limit the amount of these materials you buy. Plastic bags are easy: for 20p you can get four bags for life from a supermarket and leave them in the boot of your car. For something like a quid you can buy a little foldaway bag to stick in your coat pocket or your handbag. You’re saving yourself money AND the planet. Win win.

Say no to straws

You know how when you go to a bar or a restaurant and order a cocktail or something you normally get a wee straw in it? Next time, ask for it without a straw when you order. Imagine the number of drinks they serve every day, and the number of straws…the more people who ask for them to be left out, the fewer will end up in the bin!

I’m not sure if fast food restaurants like McDonalds will give you drinks without lids or straws, but it’s worth a shot! I hardly ever eat in McDonalds anymore so someone ask and let me know what they say. 😊

Take a coffee flask with you

Anyone else a coffee fiend? Frappuccino addict? Hot chocolate connoisseur? Did you know that coffee shops like Starbucks, Costa etc. will quite happily give you your drink in your own cup if you have one? In fact most chains actually sell them in store and often do deals like your first coffee for free if you buy a cup. Using your own receptacle saves plastic and paper – and I gather that your coffee is cheaper if you’re not getting a cup as well! Bonus.

Organise a beach cleanup

Been to the beach lately? If it’s anything like my local one it’ll be a mixture of sand, seaweed and trash. Not even landfill rubbish, but empty bottles that people have just thrown down mid-party or picnic and left. When the winds kick up or the tide comes in, guess where the empty Frosty Jacks bottle is going?

Take some binbags, your friends and family, a dog (because dogs make everything more fun) and clean up a little bit of the shoreline near where you live. I know sometimes it feels like peeing into the wind, to be blunt, but every little helps – and the more people chipping in, the more you’ll be able to clear!

Tell your friends!

I’m sharing this information with you, PBPR readers. You may have friends and family who haven’t stumbled across these pointers in one form or another, particularly if they don’t have or use the internet often. Tell them! Ask them if they recycle, buy them multi-use bags, encourage them to have their margarita without a straw. They’re better that way, trust me.

It can be demoralising to look at the state of things, and sometimes it can feel like a drop in an impossibly huge ocean. Be that drop. Start the ripple.

seahorse

Destiny 2: why “Becoming Legend” is no longer an option.

Oh man. You know when you meet one of your heroes and it turns out they’re an asshole? That’s how I feel in the wake of Destiny 2. I’ve tried to write a post about numerous times since it was released, but I wanted to defend it until I was blue in the face, the same way I did with Destiny.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I can’t.

It made all the right noises at first. Better story and the characters that we loved actually being characters and not just NPC vendors. The same gameplay that made Destiny so much fun. I just wasn’t expecting to find that everything else had gone to shit.

You might think that’s an overreaction, but the soul has been ripped out of this game. It’s hollow. Among other minor disappointments, everything past the main story mission feels flat and doesn’t inspire the sort of time sink required to progress. The gear system is demoralising. There’s no real PvP endgame anymore.The Grimoire lore has been removed from the Bungie website and in game the lore is either watered down or completely non-existent.

You read that correctly. After three years of complaints that the excellent, rich lore of the Destiny universe wasn’t taken advantage of or accessible in-game, they made it worse.

The first expansion, Curse of Osiris, dropped last week, and it was the first time I’d loaded the game up in just over a month. I was looking forward to it, but my expectations weren’t hugely high, mainly because I knew that it was unlikely to magically fix everything.

Even so, this thing nearly flatlined me.

destiny 2 mercury
Salute to the sun.

It’s a subplot that does nothing to expand or advance the overall lore of the game. The almost unbearably cool sounding Infinite Forest, while looking incredible, is a series of running through triangles, opening doors and hopping from block to block until the end. There are mobs to fight along the way, but you can just as easily run past them, with the exception of a handful marked as “Daemons” which must be killed before you can open another door. It’s more like a uninspiring platformer than an open world RPG.

I mean come on, we never find out what the titular Curse is. Osiris himself barely features. The most famous and notorious Guardian in the game’s lore and he’s barely got a cameo in an expansion named after him. Really?

destiny 2 triangle
Destiny 2: Curse of Triangles.

I know I’m biased. I know. I was obsessed with Destiny and it’s probably not fair to expect D2 to be the same game. But Destiny made huge leaps from the vanilla game to get to where it was when the sequel dropped, and Destiny 2 feels like it’s going backwards at a rate of knots. It breaks my heart.

The next expansion is due in Spring and is widely speculated to involve the Battle of Twilight Gap, which is one of my favourite parts of the lore. Bungie have indicated that they’re listening to feedback from the community, so I’m hoping – desperately, furiously hoping – that it’ll be better.

Please, Bungie?

My Winter TBR: an update, or “oops I accidentally went Christmas shopping for myself”.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a Top Ten Tuesday blog post on the books I was planning on reading over winter. I went for a day trip to Edinburgh with my mum to hang out at the Christmas market – my motivations had more than a little bit to do with the sloe gin apple toddies – and me being me, I nipped into Waterstones to get some books for Christmas presents.

I wasn’t including myself in that but Y’KNOW WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO.

book blog

These are three books that I’ve been DYING to read for ages, so I’m looking forward to cracking open the bottle of ginger nut liqueur I’ve got and getting stuck in. I’m considering doing some book reviews in the new year – although I might have to work on turning down the sarcasm and bitterness a wee bit – so one of these might be the inaugural entry in the PBPR Book Review series.

I was sliiiiiightly worried when I posted that TTT entry, as I’d forgotten that the new Destiny 2 expansion Curse of Osiris came out on December 5th and I was mentally prepared for it to be a major timesink for me. So many space children, so little time, and I have to fit my colossal TBR in as well!

Much to my dismay, I don’t think that’s a risk anymore…but that’s a blog post for next week.

Have a good weekend folks – and let me know if there’s any other books I should be throwing my debit card at this winter!