The last few weeks have been largely free of English words and after the draining experience of drafting Oh… I wanted to take a break from writing and spend my time occupied by something else.

The occasional comment here and there on some blogs but my personal writing has been replaced by other things. Bears, black horses, giraffes, sky sharks and lovely ways to start the day.

You can’t have fun and games without games but that’s for later.  First music!

Giraffes

I’ve already written of my love of Steam Powered Giraffe and it’s been a genuine delight to find they’ve put their space opera album up online.

It’s amazing.  The songs sweep from silly to heart rending sometimes within the same verse.

It’s the album Muse might have made if they had retained a sense of humour and written about steam punk, sky sharks and cosmic beauty rather than clunky paranoid conspiracy theories.

It’s so much more than that and it never fails to be make me smile and pull me from the gloom even when the songs go to very strange places…

Knowing they have a new album out now makes it all the sweeter.  The new track is sublime and carries a sweet message without being preachy or saccharine.

Black Horses

I’m not sure what made me revisit KT Tunstall (it may have been her interview in The National) but I’m glad I did. Watching her play and using her loop pedals to harmonise with herself is something special.

After enduring endless terrible YouTube clips of babies and the uneasy gamble of ‘fan made’ Peppa Pig episodes I’m glad that my rare control of music allowed me to play this classic.

My son was mesmerised.  As soon a last notes had died out I heard the word more associated with the terrible than wonderful: “Again!”.  So we played it again. Woo-hoo!

I lost a good hour listening to track after track like this one while tidying the house (and during the ill-fated attempt to empty a cat pee soaked bean bag).

“So you think it’s funny…”

And this one.

To top it off there was also this lovely story about an overenthusiastic ‘fan’ taking her prized tambourine only to return it after she appealed.

Such a lovely way to start the day

My go to album at the moment remains Sol Invictus by Faith No More.  I find its tracks popping into my head and I have to put it on as soon as I can whether it’s stomping to work with the brooding malevolence of Cone of Shame:

Or the skin tingling Rise of the Fall with its echoing, descending backing vocals and rising breakdown section:

Or a song of love and eggs:

Even stupid almost puns like seeing a Spearow  (more later) triggers this one and leaves me fighting the urge to play air guitar to the fantastic solo.

The games I play

While I should be doing something productive I found myself immersed in some great mobile games ranging from cute puzzle games to some very weird tone shifts for a match three puzzler to a deeply surprising escape the room puzzle series.

Alphabear

Let’s start light first.  After a lengthy break, I rediscovered the delightful word puzzle game of Alphabear.  It’s a test of vocabulary but also strategy and yes, lots of bears.

The lovely hook (aside from collecting bears) is that after you finish one of the bears takes a photo with a phrase using the words you played.  As you can imagine, this is ripe for all manner of rude, disturbing and potentially libelous fun.

Road Not Taken – Match 3 with added existential angst

Road Not Taken is an odd turn based puzzle game with rogue-like elements from the same developer as Alphabear.

Road Not Taken is a roguelike puzzle game about surviving life’s surprises. You play as a ranger adventuring through a vast, unforgiving forest in the aftermath of a brutal winter storm, rescuing children who have lost their way. Procedurally-generated levels deliver a limitless supply of possibilities to explore and challenges to overcome. Your actions will influence not only your own story, but that of the villagers you hope to befriend and the town you call home.

It involves trial and error, exploration, experimentation and can get very bleak even with the cute graphics (something the trailer makes abundantly clear).

Much like Binding of Issac  (without the body horror and shooting) this type of game ticks all the right boxes for me. It’s a challenge and sometimes it can be brutally unfair but the rewards for experimenting with combinations (and surprising story developments) make it as compulsive as it can be infuriating.

Rusty Lake / Cube Escape

I used to love playing the bite size escape the room flash games on Newsgrounds (including the classic Crimson Room).  I was reminded of this when my wife told me that our local shopping centre was going to host a live action alien themed escape the room event.

I needed to practice so I thought I’d see what was available that wasn’t awful on the Google Play store.

It was here I found the Cube Escape series. The list of games in the series set off warning bells as potential hack jobs but this was an unfair assessment.

These (free) escape the room puzzle games have an overarching plot and are a labour of love rather than tacky money spinners. The puzzles may seem surreal and random but have their own logic and wider symbolism and the later games provide clues for the earlier ones unlocking more secrets and plot.

It all culminates in the macabre Rusty Lake Hotel.

The puzzles become something very different.  These aren’t about escaping a room.  They are about solving Rube Goldberg puzzles to kill the guests.  Are you fulfilling a role and if so is it willingly?  Are the guests complicit in their punishment?

The new game is coming soon.

To infinity…and the secondhand market

In keeping with my track record of getting obsolete tech we picked up a copy of Disney Infinity and a bunch of figures (17!) for £20.

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Part of the thinking was similar to that tradition my dad started when he bought me Star Chess before I was born and kept it for when I was older.  I wanted to carry on that tradition.

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We’ve tested games with the cubs by gently introducing them to Mario Kart Wii and de Blob but haven’t made it a regular thing.

My son enjoyed playing with the steering wheel but had more fun doing donuts and reversing off the edge.

I’m just testing it” is usually the classic euphemism for messing around with a present you really bought for yourself but this time it’s true.  I was just testing it and it was an odd experience playing a game and assessing it all for its suitability, ease and options rather than playing as usual.

My qualms over whether having a tutorial showing you how to drop kick a character seemed at odds the many acts of far more terrible virtual violence I’ve commited in games.

I know that Disney will no longer support its online functions but there’s plenty of it to keep the cubs entertained once they are older.

The danger is that it could easily become a money pit so I’m restraining my usual urge to go on a second hand shopping spree.  My pinterest shopping list may prove otherwise…

I will at least try and fix the gender balance though.  The previous owner had a lot of Marvel superheroes and not many female characters.

We gave it a go this weekend and my son enjoyed changing characters by swapping them around and waving the figure in front of the screen saying “wave the magic!”.  My daughter was less convinced  so for now I’ll keep it aside until they are older.

Pokemon Go

It’s been a while since its release but the think pieces keep piling up with papers decrying the terrible horror of young people being outside catching virtual monsters (but at the same time providing helpful guides on how best to do so).

For those interested there are much better analyses of the game and the politics of playing it.

There are other posts blowing away the straw man argument that the game distracting people from real world issues of importance.

“Here’s the thing: if you weren’t already committed to tackling any number of the world’s injustices before Pokémon Go came out, it probably wasn’t the game’s recent popularity that was stopping you.”

That doesn’t mean that it can’t be a useful means of raising awareness of bigger issues. Activists have used Pokemon Go’s approach to highlight the horrors of childhood in Syria and what they would rather find in their streets.

Reading

I started a joke

The recent release of the critically panned Suicide Squad meant that Comixology had a good sale on Suicide Squad related comics.  I bought The Joker by Brian Azzarello and it did not disappoint.  Despite my recent shift to Marvel (Squirrel Girl!) I still have an interest in the world of Batman and some of the first Batman stories I read were all about The Joker.

I’m more familiar with Azzarello’s work on Hellblazer and his crime noir take on the Joker was genuinely shocking and brutal. There was nothing funny about this clown’s return to Gotham and reclaiming his lost crime empire. The sense of menace is palpable.

On a side note, if you haven’t already seen it I recommend this playful plot hole demolition job of Suicide Squad.

I’ve been more interested in the movie it should have been.  The original script was used to make the novel of the film so you can see what it might have been like without studio interference.

Duck, duck, death

My library is a treasure trove of unexpected finds.  What I love about it is that while there is a section devoted to helping children understand life changes there are books on weighty matters just stored alongside normal fiction.

I first discovered Michael Rosen’s Sad Book in this way and on a recent trip I stumbled on the elegant Duck, Death and the Tulip.

This is about a duck encountering and befriending Death.  It has moments of dark comedy but also a real sweetness and message of comfort and consolation.

A review in The Guardian welcomes how it breaks taboos but at the same time demurs on whether the subject matter is suitable for children.

I don’t know if this is a cultural matter but in Germany this book has been made into a short film and broadcast on German children’s television.

I don’t understand the insistence that we shield our children from talking about death for fear of scaring them.

Much of fear comes from the unknown. Not talking about it keeps it unknown and it’s in these spaces that death in all its forms can become a monster,  a spectre lurking in the air that you breathe, the water you drink and the soil under your shoe.

A recent article about helping children understand death highlights this:

“Allowing children to be a part of the grieving process with the community is actually helpful and healing for kids,” said Sally Miller, chaplain at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. “Naming the loss that they’re probably already aware of, and being there in that open space to comfort it is how they’re going to be able to move through their grief in a safe way.”

My Own Summer

That was my listening, reading and playing list but I’m always interested to hear your views on your own recommendations or what you thought about any of the ones here.

Admissions Of A Working Mother

The Pramshed
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
3 Little Buttons
My Random Musings
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