Happy birthday, Free Pigeon Press.com!

Attribution: By Adfern (own work) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Attribution: By Adfern (own work) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hi

So I’ve finally done it – gone north of the 365 day mark with this blog.

Many thanks to my supporters (Ha. yeah… all two of you!) and anybody else  who’s been a good friend over this last year.

But what a year it’s been… one I’ll never forget. I wish I could say that it’s been a great year, but that would be a lie (see HERE to understand exactly where I’m coming from with that statement).

Yes. There’s been great personal turmoil… something that’s not over yet, either – me and my family are still yet to endure the trial in January.

And then – as if I didn’t have enough excuses to be gloomy – Baron Harkonnen from Dune has just been elected Captain of the World.

 

To quote a famous catchphrase from the superb TV show The Wire: “Shyeeeeeeet”.

 

But enough of indulging in misery. “Gotta keep truckin'”; “onwards and upwards”, and all that… so without further ado, time for a bit of a review of things.

Like, for instance, where are things going with this blog? What’s my exact purpose with continuing it?

Well, there’s not been much doing for quite a few months now – tumbleweed, I know – very much because of what’s been going on behind the scenes in the wake of my mom’s death and the fact that I’ve needed to be far more discrete than usual (to the point of practically gagging myself) in order so that due process would not be impeded come the trial.

But in my spare time I have kept myself busy with a good bit of writing as a contributor under the umbrella of another project being headed up by a friend of mine… something yet to be published, but which should be quite good once that project gets further into development. Sounds all very hush-hush, I know… but there really isn’t that much of a mystery as to why I’ve not discussed it or publicized it… the fact is, I don’t like to make a fool of myself and make a noise about things (especially with regard to other people’s projects) when the traffic lights are still on amber, as opposed to green – that’s all.  Understandable, really.

I’ve also got back into my art in a big way, working as a volunteer for a not for profit art gallery/studio in Hartlepool (one of two voluntary roles I’m currently doing to help keep myself occupied, in fact) and have had a bit of fun recently doing some caricatures of some of my fellow studio peers (see below):

michael_judge_dredd_2
My mate Michael as judge Dredd. This was a real pain in the arse to draw, actually. Urrgh! It’s a real headache given all the detail needed on the armour and other bits of the costume.
steviltwin_1
A caricature of my friend Steve. I took inspiration for this from the videogame Gotham City Imposters because I wanted to do a Batman-themed pic, but it was important not to cover up too much of Steve in a costume lest I risk losing his likeness.

What I intend to do is to finally overcome my phobia of Adobe Photoshop and start doing digitally coloured versions of these things. Over the years I’ve played about with things like Photoshop and Corel Draw (as well as a popular Android graphics app called PicsArt recently), but I’ve got to admit that I’ve never invested much time or patience in them and have in fact had a bit of snootily dismissive attitude towards them… something that’s coming back to bite me in the bum big time now that so many illustrators use Photoshop and now that so many publishers expect you to be so well versed in various different graphical formats when you’re sending art to them (e.g. JPEG, TIFF, PNG, PSD etc, etc, etc).

But more than that, having become a big fan of the likes of comics illustrators like Lee Bermejo, I now realise just how wrong I really was and just how much digital colour can add to a drawing when applied well (if you’re unfamiliar with Bermejo’s work, please do check him out… especially his Joker graphic novel with Brian Azzarello and his self-penned Christmas Carol-themed Noel Batman graphic novel… just amazing, amazing work).

So anyway, that’s one little goal for myself… that’s one of my New Year’s resolutions already set down – to become much better acquainted with Photoshop.

…That and to continue things at the gym.

As many people know, I was in really bad physical shape a couple of years ago – dangerously so; morbidly obese and with blood pressure and cholesterol through the roof, so getting into the gym was motivated more by necessity rather than vanity… and much to my surprise, I picked things up rather well and have got into much better shape than I expected (get this: I’ve gone down from a 41 inch waist to a 34 inch waist!), but oh my Gawd, it’s taken some work… the hardest part being the diet much moreso than the weight training / cardio aspect.

Now THAT takes real discipline to adhere to… throwing some weights around and doing the whole gerbil thing on a treadmill is nothing… sticking to a rigid diet is a 24/7 job, I’ll tell ya!

Of course, given the events of this last year, it’s been really difficult to stick in at anything… I’ve really had to force myself sometimes… but what keeps me going is the memory of how proud my mum was to see me finally trying to sort myself out – hence why it’s so important for me to stick with it. Plus I also remember how fiercely motivated she was (at the age of nearly 80 years old!) with her line dancing and how she’d attend even if there was a snow blizzard… a fact that puts me to shame when I start to hear that little voice in my head telling me things like “Oh I would give it a miss… you’re far too tired today”.


“Limbo”.

Yes, that’s a good word. That’s a good summary of where I think I’m at right now. In this godawful inbetween stage (until January, anyway) until I can move on… though “move on” is perhaps a poor choice of words. I can’t guarantee how myself or any of my family will be, coming out of this. Or whether I’ll be the same person ever again.

But, again, I have my mom’s memory. Though there’s no guarantees, as long as I keep that in my mind that should be enough of a compass to help me from getting lost.

 

As to any other stuff… well, I’d like to get into doing some more stuff around The Sinclair Method on my blog next year. As much as I’ve walked away from a lot of the forums just because I’m frankly tired of reading the same old shit recycled and seeing the same over-opinionated pigs having their feeding frenzies in the troughs comments sections of the likes of The Fix and bullying everyone else out (shades of Napoleon from Orwell’s Animal Farm, I know), but I have to admit that I still do find the whole subject of addiction endlessly fascinating.

I just want to get back into it at another time, that’s all.


Okey-dokey, well that’s about it for now, I think. Nothing much else of note to report… but just on the subject of addiction, please do check out Monica Richardson’s documentary The 13th Step if you get the chance. I finally got round to watching it on Amazon Video about a month ago and it’s quite good. Better than I expected, actually. In fact, I much prefer it to Penn & Teller’s 12 Step thing… which I thought was quite informative, but very over-rated and I really didn’t care for the way how it fell into the trap of misrepresenting the whole debate as a two narrative paradigm, with Jeffrey Schaler effectively “representing” everyone who is opposed to the 12 Steps (which is highly misleading because I can tell you that not everyone on the other side of the fence to the Minnesota model agrees with many of Schaler’s views on addiction either).

Right. Well, that’s me done for now. Thanks for reading.

 

Peace and love,

Gary Bell

“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”: Recovery from Addiction & The Dating Game

Okay, so here’s the score: it’s been nearly three and a half years since I went onto The Sinclair Method – a treatment method that enabled me to get sober in a thirteen week time frame.

In other words, more than enough time has passed (certainly enough time by AA’s “one year yard rule”, put it that way) for me to start thinking about putting myself out there on the dating scene.

And so it was, with no small amount of apprehension that I started the process by joining a couple of dating websites earlier this year – these being Plenty of Fish and Local Companions.

And the result? Urrgh… the result, dear reader, was that I very nearly lost the will to live using these things.

To explain: at the grand old age of forty four years of age I’m finding that I’m a bit of a dinosaur; someone completely unaccustomed to dating website etiquette and the cruel brevity of modern textspeak.

Meaning, of course, that whenever I use one of these dating websites or dating apps to connect with someone whom I like the look of, I’m often treated with suspicion or thinly veiled ridicule for speaking in properly constructed sentences and paragraphs.

In other words, I increasingly feel like the main protagonist from Idiocracy whenever I communicate with people in my natural writing style and in fact feel pressurised to “dumb it down” in order to fit in better and/or avoid ridicule.

Of course, I could just sit here and take a smugly superior attitude… defiantly saying that I “refuse to compromise for stupid people” and I could spend the rest of this article venting my spleen by ridiculing these dating social media platforms… or… or I could stop and honestly look at things and assess where I might have been going wrong.

Well, let’s start with the textspeak thing and have a real look at that. Strangely enough, I stumbled across this blog article in my Facebook newsfeed just recently: http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/good-grammar-text-messages-might-make-you-look-jerk

Very interesting reading, indeed. This extract is real food for thought:

“Just as we have different styles of speaking in different situations, so do we have context-dependent styles of writing”

You know what? The author may have a point there. For instance, I can tell you that in his e-mails Roy Eskapa has a habit of typing everything in upper case WHICH MAKES IT LOOK LIKE HE IS SHOUTING… but do you know what? He actually isn’t. As Roy explained to me once, writing everything in uniform upper case is simply more expedient because it’s far less time-consuming than having to press the shift key every few seconds as he’s typing one e-mail after another.

Another example that comes to mind is an old school friend of mine who (despite being one of the most literate, intelligent people that you could ever meet) reads as if he’s had the most severe of lobotomies if you were to judge him by the standard of his writing on his Facebook timeline… something that’s just littered with the dreaded LOLs and the type of phonetic writing that you might expect from a young ‘un just out of nursery (example: “yeah ano! LOL” replacing the more formal “Yes, I know!”).

…Which makes me think that the author of the blog is correct in what she says about how many people use textspeak as a method to be perceived to be less formal and therefore far less threatening. The latter becoming especially more important in this day and age where people are so quick to manufacture reasons to publicly shame people on social media (see Jon Ronson’s excellent So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed to read more on this very real modern phenomenon)… so, as much as it hurts my ego to admit this, perhaps the use of a “LOL” comes in handy now and again as a seat belt of sorts to avoid embarrassing social media car crashes; a form of pre-emptive damage limitation, perhaps?

Okay, so maybe I should loosen up a bit. Point taken.

Or (here’s a better idea) maybe I should simply tighten up on my match criteria for these dating sites?

…Which, in a roundabout way, leads me on to talking about the two new dating apps that I joined over the last month or so – Tinder and Badoo.

Now this is where it gets interesting because, to tell you the truth, these two apps aren’t that bad. Tinder, in particular, I quite like because of the way that by linking to your Facebook profile and reading your work history and qualifications and interests/likes, etc its algorithm actually attempts to match you to people with a similar personality and similar interests.

Which is great.

I can honestly say that I’ve been quite impressed by the matches that it’s given me and some of the nice ladies that I’ve communicated with through it… but here’s the thing: it’s frustratingly un-user friendly in that you’re limited by a specific word count for your profile write up and it offers scant little else in the way of any other special features to recommend it, whereas Badoo (a dating app recommended to me by a friend) is a different kettle of fish because whilst it doesn’t offer anything nearly as good in the way of matching, it does offer numerous appealing extras such as photo verification using your mobile device’s camera (something always reassuring in this day and age given the increased awareness of the number of fakers out there thanks to things like the documentaries Catfish and Talhotblonde) and other appealingly daft perks such as Xbox-style achievements for the number of views your profile has had and also, using your phone’s GPS technology, the app gives you an alert if you’ve unknowingly bumped into a fellow Badoo member of the opposite sex that same day… which is quite a cool feature, because it certainly gets your curiosity going.

So, depending upon what appeals to you the most, there’s things to recommend about both apps.

For me personally, though, Tinder has the edge just simply because it gives better matches.

Not that this makes things that much easier for me personally. To explain – even with a well-written profile and some nice photos of myself looking all debonair it is no guarantee of success whatsoever.

There are still things like the dreaded (but all too common) ridiculously unachievable Andie MacDowell-esque bullet lists to endure on these things and then, once I do get talking to a nice lady, there’s still a vetting process and numerous questions that get fired at me (which, again, is the Catfish legacy at work); something which I’m okay with and am quite sympathetic to – after all, there are some pretty damaged, dangerous people out there.

No – when it comes right down to it, my problem has a lot to do with my own confidence level thanks to a lot of my own baggage.

I’m specifically referring to my history of mental ill health thanks to my bipolar disorder and also my history with alcohol addiction and how I was very much “in the wilderness” thanks to both for so many years.

A story that makes for great reading as a recovery narrative on some Facebook forum or blog or Message board or whatever, but NOT – I can assure you! – on a fucking dating website!!!!

…Hence why, when I’m asked awkward questions like “You’re a reasonably good looking man, how come you’ve been single for so long?” I’ve had to develop appropriate ways of communicating (in a drip-drip style) some of the health/social challenges that I’ve had without laying it on too thickly; not something that I’ve been entirely happy about doing because I despise dishonesty, but then again I frankly don’t want to scare people off.

As my friend Robert Rapplean recently pointed out to me, you have to be both pragmatic and strategic in your choice of what you disclose about yourself… as if you were going for a job interview – meaning that you have to “accentuate the positive”.

You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
E-lim-i-nate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with mister in between

Johnny Mercer,  Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, 1944


Conclusion

I think that there’s a number of things that I’ve learned since starting the ball rolling in January of this year.

  1. “You get what you pay for in this life”. Meaning that, if I am really serious, it may be worth investing a little bit of time and money in a membership to a good dating website with a solid reputation rather than messing around with cheap freemium dating apps.
  2. Just on the time aspect – I’ve read elsewhere on the net that fifteen hours a week is actually considered a reasonable investment in order to find success. A lot of time, I know, but it makes sense not to be half-assed about finding the right person and to really put in a lot of effort in doing a good write up and keeping it regularly updated with new photos.
  3. I perhaps need to “get over myself” a bit with my pedantic hang-up about people who use textspeak and accept that maybe – just maybe – some level of dialect switching is going on there. A good way to spot whether this may be the case would be to check out their profile and attempt to read between-the-lines.
  4. Most importantly, I think that I just need to HAVE FUN. Accept that rejection is inevitable, that I’ll have to go through a lot of ugly step sisters before I find my own personal Cinderella and – oh, yes – to make sure that I never EVER post something like this on a dating website…

Okay, as usual, it’s been a blast. Thanks for listening to my ranting and raving.

 

Peace and love,

Gary

P.S. just one last interesting point: both myself and Mike Dempsey were talking about the whole online dating thing and the challenges that people with stigmatising illnesses face in getting back into the dating scene and we briefly mooted the possibility of answering this demand by setting up a dating site or dating app for people in recovery… however – after about, oh, thirty seconds of thought on the subject – we both concluded that (despite it not being a bad idea) the reality is that moderating such a thing would be an absolute frickin’ nightmare; just too much.

P.P.S. Another thought that does spring to mind: I suppose that this is yet another type of discrimination that people in recovery face. Much like how we face discrimination when applying for jobs or in the way that we are sometimes treated by members of the medical profession when complaining about other health problems. I guess the biggest difference, of course, is that (unlike the other examples) when it comes to the dating game it isn’t remotely a meritocracy to start with anyway… in fact it’s entirely discriminatory by it’s very nature. It’s brutal and unforgiving, in fact; positively Darwinian. A heartbreaking truth which I learned for myself when I stumbled across a disabled lady’s profile on Plenty of Fish in which she was pleading with people to ignore the wheelchair she was sitting in in her profile photo and just to talk to her like a proper human being… so sad.

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