Remembering a Wonderful Mum: Norma Bell (1936-2016)

Mum_Jan_2016
Me and mum. Photo taken using my Kindle camera on 6th January 2016.

Now I come to write the post that I was dreading writing because I didn’t quite know how to articulate my feelings in a way that would do them justice. However, I could not not write a tribute to Mum on here.

Simply because it just wouldn’t sit right with me to write a review of The Chaos Engine on Steam or to do a books vs. TV show comparison piece on The Strain or to comment upon Stanton Peele’s recent opportunistic exercise in sabre rattling in his predictable hatchet job article about TSM on Alternet (conveniently timed just ahead of Claudia Christian’s TEDx lecture… surprise, surprise).

No. I instead had to write about this. I had to write a tribute to Mum.

As I wrote on Facebook on 17th May, 2016:

So today we got to say goodbye and pay tribute to our beloved Mum – our hero. I have only just come back from the wake and, all things considered, it all went very well and she got the send-off she really deserved. I think that she would have been deeply proud of the dignified way that her family were able to hold it together so well despite having to also labour under the burden of the circumstances in which she was prematurely taken from us.

Again, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone for their kind, comforting words during this sad time. Also, it was lovely to be reacquainted with so many old friends… thanks for that… it is touching to know just how many people loved and thought so highly of Mum. Everybody thinks their Mum is special, but do you know what? Ours really was… more than even I ever truly appreciated until now. Bless her heart.xxx

Regarding the statement “labour under the burden of the circumstances in which she was prematurely taken from us”, it is a matter of public record that she was the victim of a homicide and that her home was robbed and set fire to. But I don’t really want to go into any of that, just because it is painful to discuss and I also need to be mindful of due process given the subsequent arrest and pending court action against the suspected perpetrator.

But yes, these last eight weeks have been emotionally stressful. How could they not be?

Thankfully we’re a big, strong family so I know we’ll get through this with love, courage and dignity. We’ll do Mum’s memory proud, I’m sure. We are united and we will prevail.

Speaking for myself, I’m as proud as hell to have called Norma Bell “Mum”. As devoted foster carers she and her husband the late John (AKA “Dad” – sadly missed) took me in as part of their family when I was just ten days old and together they gave me a wonderful childhood and, as I got older and developed many of the little glitches that come with adulthood, never gave up on me and left a real imprint on me – helping to shape me into a far better man than I might have been had I never known them. I have much to be grateful for. This is the reason why I am proud to now carry their surname.

And it is this that I shall choose to remember in the years ahead – the joy and the laughter and the warmth… not the way that Mum was cruelly taken.

I will not let that have power over me. I could so easily let this turn me into a cruel, embittered man but I will not simply because I was raised by good, kind people to be better than that.

In fact, just regarding my previous social media work surrounding The Sinclair Method, here’s a little-known fact: I might not have put myself out there and got into it all as much as I did if not for Mum.

After Claudia Christian had asked me whether I would be interested in taking part in her wonderful documentary One Little Pill I agonised for a while. I didn’t immediately say “yes” just for the simple reason that I was afraid of the exposure that it would bring and it was in fact Mum who helped put my head straight on whether or not to take part.

Mum: “Will this documentary help save lives?”

Me: “Yes, probably.”

Mum: “Then you should do it“.

…This coming from a woman who was quite risk averse in the way that she would always be the first to try to shield me and any of her other children from any potential dangers in their lives.

But, you see, she had seen how much healthier I was, how TSM had worked for me (and is STILL working, I should point out) and – bless her heart – being the type of person that she was always thought of ways to help other people above her own needs. And that is how she stirred me out of my own moral cowardice on the issue and I subsequently hopped on a train to London to spend the day with a certain American actress and a certain well-known South African psychologist for the filming of OLP.

So her benevolent influence has indirectly touched a lot of people, I think.

“You save one life, you save all life”.

 

And on that note I’ll say farewell for now.

 

Peace and love,

Gary

The Men Who Stare at Sprites: A Review of From Bedrooms to Billions (2014)

‘For the British people the advent of the early home computers was perfect… and why we were so dominant in the world is because the British have got this crazy creativity going on… it was all about invention… it was all about creating things that had never existed before.’ – Peter Molyneux, From Bedroom to Billions

Okay, so I’ve previously briefly made mention of the Netflix documentary From Bedrooms to Billions… you can find its IMDb entry right here… but, as of yet, not shared my thoughts on it.

Time to correct that.

What I can say is that it is like I am the perfect demographic for this film – that is to say a British guy of a certain age (*cough!* north of forty *cough!*) whose very first home computer was a ZX Spectrum +2 in the mid 1980s.

Aaaah…… the memories…… these were the heady days of monochromatic graphics, horrible attribute clashes, bleepy-bloppy sound effects and having to endure screeching, seizure-inducing loading screens for five to ten minutes every time I wanted to load a game from cassette tape (disc drives??? pfft! …they were a luxury, I tell ya… a luxury!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buFBNQbzrxs

But do you know what? Back at that time I absolutely loved it… this was how I first got into videogames, this sparked off a decades-long love affair with the medium, and this is how I first got really curious about computers and what they could do… and the Spectrum, as primitive as it was, was my ‘gateway drug’ (mind you… if I’m truthful, I was slightly jealous of many of my peers who’d been gifted Commodore 64’s instead… because, as it mentions in this film, the Commodore had better sound and allowed for more than one colour in each 8-bit character block).

But still, ‘You never forget your first‘ and all that, I guess.  Plus, even despite its limitations, the Spectrum wasn’t a bad little machine… it really wasn’t the Ŝkoda of home computers that some people unfairly make it out to be (indeed, there’s a lot of love for that little machine in retro-gaming circles to this day – something which, thanks to crowdfunding, has led to the recent emergence of the ZX Spectrum Vega). But I digress.  Back to the film:

At two hours and twenty nine minutes in length it cannot be accused of understaying its welcome, that’s for sure; but it certainly isn’t a chore to sit through, has real replay value (I’ve already watched it about two or three times) and does a really good job of giving a snapshot of what was going on with this then very new, burgeoning cottage industry in bedroom programming back in the 80s, prior to the emergence of consoles.

It is particularly gratifying to see people like Jeff Minter, Mike Montgomery of The Bitmap Brothers and Matthew Smith make appearances in this film… the latter (looking like he’d seen better days, to tell you the truth) being the creator of ZX Spectrum classic Manic Miner.  The contribution of these people and many, many others should not be understated.  What’s most surprising is just how young most of these guys were… many of whom, ultimately, weren’t prepared for the tough realities of the multi-billion dollar industry that they helped create from their bedrooms… hence why it’s gratifying to see the work of these individuals getting rediscovered and finding a new lease of life on platforms like Steam.

Just as an aside: I was really interested to recently read that a redux of The Chaos Engine (an old 90’s classic by The Bitmap Brothers) is out on Steam.  Since I have fond memories of playing that on my younger brother’s Amiga back in the day, I may well purchase that.  I loved the whole steampunk aesthetic of that game, the evocative industrial music score and the clever A.I. controlled two player co-op of that game… well worth revisiting (it could make for an interesting future review on here, come to think of it).

So overall, when it comes to the documentary and everything that it covers, it does a good job and Anthony and Nicola Caulfield (the film’s directors) deserve special praise for their tenacity in pursing crowdfunding for this project, having had knock-backs from both Channel 4 and the BBC prior to this.

It’s on the long side, sure, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is also (unexpectedly) moving.  You come away from viewing this film with a renewed appreciation for this artform and the efforts of the young British pioneers who played such a pivotal role in what would evolve into the important creative industry that we enjoy today.

 

Respect long overdue‘, in other words.  Recommended.

I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts on this film.

If you’re interested in this subject matter, some other films that you may well be interested in checking out are (in no particular order):

Videogames: The Movie

Indie Game: The Movie

Atari: Game Over

Looking back at Batman: Arkham Knight… was it really the letdown that a lot of fans say it was?

Right, then.  What I’m about to say makes me a bit nervous… just because it may indicate that I have a bit of a problem and may need some help… so please be gentle with me, dear reader.  It isn’t easy admitting to something like this out loud, okay?

(Deep breath)

Alright, here goes: despite the fact that over four months have now passed since Batman: World of Tanks was unleashed upon the over-expectant, hyperbole prone fanboy masses… and yes, despite the fact that I was badly disappointed by the way that the Batmobile dragged down the game with these horribly drawn-out tank battles and the obscenity-inducing Riddler race tracks… yes, despite even thatI still keep myself returning to it

…Again and again and again.

I’ve tried to deny myself, I really have… but dammit… wouldn’t ya know?  All that freeflow combat and all those really cool stealth mechanics (not to mention all of the fantastic graphics, voice acting and narrative) in the non-tankety bits make this particular game a still alluring, yet cruel mistress.

So there we are.  I sort of have the videogame equivalent of have a form of Stockholme Syndrome when it comes to this game… like returning to an an abusive lover.

Hehe!  I’m weak, I know!  (Well, until the next Hitman game flits its eyelasses at me, that is…)

 

 

P.S. Oh, and while I’m on the subject of the Batman Arkhamverse games – for the record, Arkham Origins was nowhere near as bad as many people say it was.  The fact is, it only got so much hate poured upon it because it was so damn glitchy early into its release and was produced by Warners Bros Montreal instead of Rocksteady.

Was is it as good as Arkham City?  Nope.  But it did have a surprisingly good plotline – one that made it so that it made sense that Batman had all of these encounters with multiple villains during the same night – and it also featured excellent depictions of Deathstroke and Bane (indeed, to me this felt like the “real” Bane for the first time in any medium outside of the original comics).