Fandom Island

Fandoms are truly amazing things. There’s one for seemingly every franchise nowadays, and whatever the product they exist solely to bring fans of all ages and backgrounds together in a comfortable and familiar environment. They are capable of lifting, inspiring and even saving lives, and so their importance to millions around the world – including myself – must never be underestimated. As you will know by now, my chosen fandom is Doctor Who. It has definitely shaped my life to a significant extent, as I may never have chosen to write without it, and watching it has filled me and many others with seemingly endless wonder. It pleases me greatly to see fellow Whovians freely interacting online and indulging in what they love so much – and even those of you who are not fans can surely appreciate how expansive this international community of enthusiasts is.

That said, however, I do see an underlying problem that I feel compelled to address – not with the Who fandom itself, but with the perception that some non-fans have of it. I was inspired to write this post just a few days ago, when – being very excited to see the unveiling of Jodie Whittaker’s new costume – I suddenly thought about how these people have reacted to my declarations of love for the show. I can’t help but think that I occasionally feel looked down on in a way that people in other fandoms, such as Harry Potter or Supernatural, never seem to be. As soon as this occurred to me, I knew that I had to find out whether this perceived reaction really was an established thing, and what people’s reasoning – if any – was behind it. I posed these questions to some of my friends, Will included, who I thought might be able to relate to my Whovian predicament — and one in particular gave me a very intriguing response.

It was Lauren who said that, as a Doctor Who fan, there can be some very complicated scientific concepts and plots for one to figure out, meaning that those who can (and don’t be fooled, because I’m not always one of them) are stereotyped as being more nerdy and less cool than fans elsewhere. Believe it or not, I’d never considered this before. I suppose it makes sense, although the apparent implication that non-Whovians are less intelligent in some way does make me a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe the people who look down on or criticise us but have never seen the show are put off doing so by assuming you have to be clever. It’s not essential at all. In fact, I’d say that the reason I had never about Lauren’s opinion is because it’s not why I fell in love with Doctor Who in the slightest. I love it because of that wonder I mentioned, the ever-present notion that anything is possible, and the Doctor’s relentless message of acceptance and equality that is so clearly present everywhere he or she goes. These reasons might all sound clichéd, and maybe I’m repeating myself in giving them, but that’s only because they’re never ever untrue. If you’re reading this, you have a few pre-conceived ideas and you’ve never given Doctor Who the time of day thus far, all I ask is that you give it a try. One episode. You might surprise yourself, and gain a few million new friends in the process.

Mason

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Bargains and Beyond

​Whilst my guest posts are usually covering bigger topics, I thought today I would try something different.

I have been living by myself now for around two months, and whilst actually getting homeware has been stressful and taken all of my savings (although to be fair, that wasn’t much), it has allowed me to be resourceful, and I now know what is worth splashing out on and what’s best being cheap and cheerful.

So whether you’re like me, about to move out, a student off to uni halls, or even just a bargain lover, strap yourselves in for the wild ride that is my top 5 places, in store and online, to get cheap but decent quality homeware.

1. Wilkos. This was my absolute saving grace. Where else can you get a bowl for 75p? Wilkos sell everything you could possibly want for kitchens, bathrooms and more. About 75% of the stuff in my home is from here.

2. Primark. If you’re looking for bed sheets, I highly recommend Primark. They’re cheap, and often offer fairly decent quality. I own two sets of bedsheets (one is Christmas themed and I use it all year round, but we don’t need to talk about that) and they’re both from Primark. They also do towels and general home trinkets.

3. eBay. This site isn’t only about second hand things as some people think; it can quite often be home to some hidden gems too. I have an Aztec blanket from here, which was lovely and cheap, but is also thick and warm!

4. TK Maxx. Whilst the store is quite messy, and can sometimes be a bit of a headache to walk round, they do a lot of homeware cheaply. I find they’re best for kitchen utensils, but they do plenty of other home bits too. Definitely worth a look round (if your head can manage it!)

5. Last but by no means least, Amazon, an obvious but often overlooked choice. Amazon has literally anything you could ever need. Mixing bowls? Check. Microwaves? Check. Nicolas Cage pillowcase? Check. Don’t ask how I found that last one out.

Hopefully this short list will help you in not completely breaking your bank when you inevitably have to flee the nest.

Emily

Harmonised

I wanted to share another one of my thoughts about Saturday’s Jamiroquai gig (see The Funk Is Here To Stay, Part 2) – particularly a new feeling that had never struck me before until I was sat there, with my eyes transfixed on the stage and the lights dancing around it. I was on the crest of a wave during the opening montage of the show, scarcely believing that I was really at the concert which had been so hotly anticipated since April. The rollercoaster ride was about to begin, and I eagerly looked around at all of the other arrivals streaming in by the minute. They varied greatly in age, from the under-tens to pensioners I would never previously have expected to see at that kind of gig. Like me, some were wearing Jamiroquai t-shirts or hats, and one man even chose to sport a full Native American headdress in honour of Jay Kay’s love of headgear. I noticed that some of these items of clothing were older and perhaps suggestive of a longer obsession with the band than others – and this, in turn, got me wondering what each fan’s individual story was. How and when did they first fall in love with Jay, his band and his music?

The man himself mentioned mid-show that 25 years have now passed since the release of the first Jamiroquai album, Emergency on Planet Earth. Judging by the reaction that statement received, there were definitely fans in the arena who had been there for that first record, and had been hooked ever since. But there were also fans whose love developed from every subsequent nook and cranny of Jamiroquai history, such as those who grew up at the height of their fame – ensnared, maybe, by Travelling Without Moving or Synkronized – or those closer in age to me, who might have encountered Noughties albums such as Dynamite in mid-adolescence. And then, finally, there are the very youngest, who may only have found the Space Cowboys with the release of the “Automaton” single in January. It’s fascinating to think about, but it obviously doesn’t matter at all. What matters most is that we’re all on the aforementioned rollercoaster together at the same time, feeling the sheer power music can have in a live setting – the sort that can bring a tear to one’s eye if they’re passionate enough. Regardless of who we are, or where we come from, we’re all there to be dazzled and entertained in perfect harmony, making memories to last a lifetime.

Mason

The Funk Is Here To Stay, Part 2

Three days after first writing about my love for Jamiroquai in The Funk Is Here To Stay, Mum surprised me after work with the news that she’d booked two tickets for us to see the band live at Arena Birmingham in November. I was thrilled and overjoyed in equal measure, since I could not have wished for a better first concert to attend, and spent the next few months adamant that it would the unquestionable highlight of my year. The big day came around in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and last night the wait was over as Mum and I found ourselves seated in the arena with a clear view of the stage ahead. Around us, the seats were gradually filling up as a steady stream of standing spectators also made their way in, leaving very little free space by the time Jamiroquai walked on to widespread screams of adulation at around 8:30pm. Those who weren’t already at their seats were seemingly late because their determination to get a pint in the bar queue eclipsed their hunger for the music – more fool them, because here was one show nobody should want to miss a second of.

As Mum and I finished our own beers – Heinekens presented in a plastic equivalent of the normal green glass bottle – the atmosphere in the arena was one that, as Murray Walker once said, you could cut with a cricket stump. The fans present were comprised of the young and old alike, and all including myself gave an equally loud and rapturous reception to the montage of video clips that heralded the start of the gig, fitting with the theme of the Automaton album they represented. Sections of various news reports and TV programmes warned us of the potential rise of robots and machines in society, as swathes of colour and computer graphics accompanied it on the other screens. With that, the evening was underway, and Jay Kay (appropriately behatted with his new colour-changing electronic headpiece) and co emerged to begin an infectious two-hour set, starting with Automaton‘s opening track, “Shake It On”. From the very first note, it became even clearer than before that I was in the presence of some exceptionally talented musicians, as well as a Jay who had not lost a single shred of his ability to sing, dance or have an audience eating out of the palm of his hand. I was a willing contributor to every deafening roar that responded to his performances and between-song banter, and the band definitely made sure to pull out the crowd-pleasers. I would rate “Space Cowboy”, “Cosmic Girl”, my personal favourite “Canned Heat” and encore finale “Virtual Insanity” as the songs that drew the biggest audience participation, although my voice was almost hoarse – along with plenty of others – from belting out every tune that Jamiroquai treated us to. I have not felt as alive as I was then for some time, swept up in a wave of disco hysteria and adrenaline amongst the addictive rhythms. Another notable inclusion in the set was “(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance”, chosen in tribute to those killed in May at the Manchester Arena, while “Too Young to Die” was performed live for the first time in 15 years, according to Jay. There was even something for the hardcore aficionados in the form of 1994 album track “The Kids” – a song even I didn’t know the words to!

The whole show really was a treat for all the senses. There was ear joy from both the music and the wildly enthusiastic audience, a feast for the eyes thanks to the abundance of colour – both from the big screens and Jay’s hat – and the rows of (sometimes drunken) dancing fans leaping from their seats to boogie, the feel of my £20 souvenir programme, which really will be something to cherish with the gig itself, the taste of my ice-cold Heineken and even the smell of chips and vinegar from some of the other seats. Everything about last night will stay vividly in my mind forever, but the mighty Jamiroquai were, of course, its crowning glory – and I just hope there’s plenty more where that came from. I left with a huge smile plastered on my face and a sense of joy that will never leave me, having been blessed with a night’s entertainment from a group of musical heroes that can never be taken away. I have now promised Mum that I’ll have to buy her a concert ticket or two very soon!

Mason

 

 

 

Later…

So, Third Year. The year where everything gets serious. Where your work suddenly becomes important and should be given a lot of attention. I should probably get to it then. Yeah…

My work ethic is terrible. This is evident as Mason asked me to write this post weeks ago. For some reason, even if it’s doing something I love, I can never build up the energy to do it. I have a feature length script, a dissertation, a monologue and a script report to write. And yet I can’t bring myself to get started. I can sit down in front of my laptop to start writing, and yet my mind will wander away from the task at hand. This is all well and good until you spend 15+ hours in the library to write the end of a script. That’s an example I made up. It didn’t actually happen. Honest.

When it comes to writing, nothing makes me happier. Except when it doesn’t. My low self-esteem and sometimes crippling doubt often lead to me questioning myself. Am I a good writer? Have I wasted my life? Am I a failure? This doesn’t help my motivation. I can be in these slumps for a couple of days. And then I’ll watch a brilliant film\TV show, or I’ll think of an idea that I just can’t wait to put down on paper, and my passion will return. And then I’ll sit down in front of my laptop and the cycle will begin anew.

This blog post isn’t a ‘how to avoid procrastination’ guide. If I knew how to be more productive, I wouldn’t have to write this, and I could go back to calling giraffes bastards. Hopefully, over this next year, my resolve and motivation will increase, and I can write a more cheerful post. I’ll get back to you on that.

Will

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” – Christopher Parker

The Day I Fried a Snake

“I saved my pocket money for three weeks. I didn’t buy anything. No comics, no crisps, no sweets. I went to a pet shop and bought this tiny green snake instead. A grass snake they called it. When I got home I played with the snake. It felt warm and soft. I was scared but I still had to hold it. I liked the way it wrapped itself round my fingers like an electric shoelace. And then…. then I realised. I could never keep it. Not as a pet. Where would it sleep? What would it eat? Where would it go when I went to school? It was a stupid thing to to buy. So I had to get rid of it. But how? All sorts of things occurred to me: flush it down the toilet, bury it, throw it from a tower block. But all the while another thought was taking shape. A thought so wonderful it seemed the only thing to do. So I got a frying pan and put it on the gas stove. I put a bit of butter in the pan and turned the gas up full. The fat started to crackle and smoke. I dropped the snake into the frying pan. It span round and round and its skin burst open like the skin of a sausage. It took ages to die. Its tiny mouth opened and closed and its black eyes exploded. But it was wonderful to watch.” – Presley’s monologue, from The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley, 1991.

The piece you see above was both the best and worst thing I ever had to perform during my A-Level Drama course. I loved it because it was surreal and it gave everyone who ever heard it the shivers, but on the other hand it was also the closest I have ever come to suffering for my art. I never read Philip Ridley’s full play, so I can’t tell you about the context behind it, but I found this in a book of monologues for students and just knew immediately that it could be a winner. A large part of our grades for the course was due to come from our monologues – but unlike our previous end-of-year performances, to which we could invite anyone we liked, these would be given only to the rest of the class, our teacher and the visiting examiner. By this point, my class only actually consisted of a handful of other people, but I was glad of this when it came to choosing my piece as I knew I would have a smaller and more intimate group to try and unsettle. But how would I do this? I needed to gross them out in some way, and after a week or two of thought I knew exactly what to do. I needed to fry the snake in front of their eyes, leaving them open-mouthed and speechless in response…

OK, so frying an actual snake wouldn’t have gone down well with the examiner or the RSPCA, so instead I had to find what I’ll call a “stunt snake”. This came in the somewhat predictable form of a raw sausage, which would slide around in a real frying pan and be squashed and manipulated mercilessly in my fingers as though it were alive. Having taken a trip to Tesco so that I would have some bangers to hand, I made sure I had one on my person for rehearsals the next day – as well as a pan borrowed from the kitchen. Sure enough, my plan for the piece worked like a dream, even though I realised I was going to have a problem with raw sausage meat getting stuck underneath my fingernails. Even when I washed my hands vigorously after every run through, it wouldn’t always budge immediately – this is what I meant by suffering for my art. As time went by, however, this soon became a very small price to pay, because the end result was something I became immensely proud of. In just two minutes or so, I had the chance to perform something that would completely captivate its tiny audience – not because of me, but because it was sheer surrealism in the truest sense. For once, I couldn’t wait for exam day.

Now, let’s bypass all of the build-up to the big moment and cut directly to the chase. Imagine me there, with my lamp, frying pan and stunt snake ready on the table, being given the signal by the examiner to begin the monologue. What residual noise there was has now completely died away and I am now alone in my performance space, with only my meticulously-rehearsed lines in my head for company. They’ll never desert me, surely?

Wrong. For the first and only time in any Drama lesson, I drew a complete and total blank. I searched frantically for my opening lines, but there was only rolling tumbleweed for what seemed like a lifetime. It got to a point where I was sure I was only seconds away from being failed and ushered back into the audience – and it was then that the piece spluttered into life as I remembered what I was supposed to say. I sailed through the remaining dialogue with ease, but the silence at the beginning was still in my thoughts, overshadowing everything else. I was convinced that I had totally sabotaged my own A-Level grade, and that for my classmates, the teacher and the examiner, it was also the elephant in the room. The biggest surprise would be saved for last, however, when it transpired that nobody in the audience actually noticed I’d forgotten my lines, and that the examiner thought the resulting pause was for dramatic effect. I believe it actually ended up improving my mark slightly – but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to prevent my D overall…

Mason

 

 

You Can Call Me Al

Somebody once suggested that, if I ever end up writing for a living, I should adopt a pseudonym to release my work under. I thought about this for a while, and at first it seemed cool that I could have some amount of mystery around my true identity, but I quickly put it to bed when I couldn’t come up with anything decent. Not only that, but nobody would ever know what I had written was my work! This blog therefore carries my regular birth name, as I hadn’t ever expected to replace it when it began three years ago, but this week I suddenly thought of a story I feel compelled to tell here. It gave rise to the most likely alternative I could ever have to “Mason Hawker” – and all through a simple misunderstanding.

If the weather behaves itself on Sunday, I hope to go back to archery again, as various reasons have prevented me from going since shortly before my birthday in August. Before that, though, the club held a session in early June that allowed us regulars to meet the newest arrivals to the group at a relaxed and casual shoot. The weather was perfect for it, with not a single cloud in the sky or breath of wind in the air, and the turnout was much bigger than I had expected – especially when you consider that we had previously been quite a small club, on a field off the beaten track. Dad thought that there could have been as many as 50 people present, meaning there would be ample opportunity for mingling throughout the session. Sure enough, we all chatted away to one another, shaking hands and making introductions as we shared bows (since there were more people than there were bows to go around) and snaffled chocolate bars with tea at half-time. It had been a positive shoot for me so far – I’m more rusty on some days than I am on others, but today I had hit my fair share of golds on the target, and I was pleased to have stretched the muscles in my arms dealing with a sixteen-pound bow. I therefore felt like I’d earned my cuppa and chocolate bar, both of which were gratefully accepted and went down a treat. As I sat quietly for a moment, pondering the morning’s results and the rest of my day, I could see one of the new members approaching in the corner of my eye, and quickly turned my head to greet them warmly. It’s taken us a while to get here, I’ll admit, but this is the point at which I was unwittingly given my potential pen name in just a single fleeting moment.

As is customary when two or more people meet for the first time, our exchange swiftly reached the stage where names would have to be swapped. The man to whom I was speaking was – and is – very friendly, but I was still determined, as I always am, not to trip over my words and make a good first impression. Naturally, therefore, the inevitable happened, and my hopes of avoiding any awkwardness were quickly flushed down the toilet.

He’d given me his name (which I’ve since forgotten, I might add). Good. Things were going well. All I had to do was say my own in return, and then my work would be done. I waited for the question:

“What’s your name, sorry?”

“Just say it, you idiot,” I thought to myself. My lips parted, ready to speak. And after a hesitant second, sound emerged. “Er…Mason,” I uttered timidly.

Note the “er”, which definitely was not intended to be part of the end response. My companion should have completely disregarded that first bit – and definitely should not have mistaken it for my first name.

“Al Mason?” he asked, somewhat confused by my unease.

I corrected him, of course, but there you have it – Al Mason, an inconspicuous fusion of my own real name and a misheard false one. It’s not going to catch on, but for the sake of this post, as my old drinking buddy Paul Simon once sang, you can call me Al. I trust there’ll be no such confusion on my next archery outing.

Al