Wednesday, 31 August 2016

August 2016

We had a conversation at work yesterday about whether it's been a 'good summer', by which we were specifically talking about the weather. We all agreed that yes, it probably has been a good summer — my specific criteria for this is that when I think about all the particularly memorable things I've done this summer, they've all been done in sweltering sunshine, and August's fun things have been no exception. Global warming nightmares (briefly) aside, this is GREAT.

Anyway. Quick off the mark with the blog this month. I hope Justin is happy.

I had a fun work task which involved walking around Brighton photographing architectural features. Nice to really have a proper look at Brighton's weird and wonderful buildings.

You guys. I'm starting to feel old. My back has gone wrong, I made sad noises when I sit down/stand up sometimes, and I don't enjoy Snapchat.

I have, however, been quite enjoying blatant Snapchat rip-off, Instagram stories. On the evening of August 5th, I attempted to explain Instagram stories to Justin, who went from confused, to dismissive, to briefly enraged, to wholehearted endorsement within about 5 minutes, and is now one of the most enthusiastic Instagram storiers in my timeline. 

I had been similarly dismissive of VR/AR, despite having never tried it. Showing my age, I boldly claimed that I simply couldn't see a place for it in my life, and had no interest in finding out any more and would do just fine in the real world, thankyouverymuch. As thanks/payback for the Instagram Stories lesson, Justin hooked me up to Google Cardboard and

wwwwwwooooooooooaaaaaaarggghhhhh VIRTUAL REALITY WOAAAAAH

And now I'm a lot more open minded to VR. The end.

I feel bad for how much I avoid Pride in Brighton. Pride is a wonderful celebration and I wholeheartedly endorse the original sentiment behind it... but it's also, increasingly, a scary, intimidating, rowdy, messy, litter-strewn horror. Every Pride when I go out on the streets I feel threatened or scared at least once. My partner, who is genderqueer, experiences more gender-based abuse during pride than any other time of the year in Brighton, which is utterly grim.

Anyway, I mostly hid this year. But during my hiding (at George and Wes's house) I had AN IDEA. An idea for a business, sorry STARTUP. I don't get those kind of ideas very often (ever) and I'm irrationally excited about it. I'm holding onto it like a precious flower and trying to gently cultivate its growth while not crushing it. Watch this space. (Or maybe don't, in case I fail/give up)

Bought myself some unusually masculine trousers. Is this helpful? POWER SLACKS (nope)

And then suddenly I got REALLY BUSY for a while back there.

This year, me and Alex went to Nine Worlds Geekfest, described on their website as "Three days and nights of books and comics, gaming, film and TV, fandom, crafts, cosplay and creativity, geek culture and academe, and above all meeting awesome people and having a really big party."

Technically more Alex's scene than mine, but there's a lot to interest me there too, and as Alex was part running the boardgames track we got a free hotel room, which sealed the deal. I travelled up to London on a sweltering hot Thursday, the night before the con started, with a giant suitcase full of boardgames.

On the first day of the con, I went to three talks — 'How to fly a rocket to the moon', a sciency talk about the physics of rockets and how they are represented in sci-fi... 'Hiding in plain sight', a fascinating talk (with visuals) about some of history's more creative and inspiring film opening credit sequences... and Lydia Nicholas and Laurie Pennie, 'Telling Stories About Technology', who, frankly, I could have listened to talk for HOURS.

I also did some enthusiastic teaching in the boardgames lounge (Patchwork and Galaxy Trucker), and generally mingled around having a nice time.

One of the highlights of Nine Worlds for me, was staying in a way nicer hotel than we'd normally be able to afford. The Novotel Hammersmith is a big chain hotel, but at the upper end of niceness, which meant the room had all kinds of ridiculous swanky features, and the bed linen and mattress were just reeeeeallly nice. One of the main highlights though, for me, was GIANT BREAKFAST. After the first day when we established that the kitchen are GOOD PEOPLE who basically made everything that could be vegan vegan (cooking in olive oil rather than butter, vegan brand of veggie sausages, vegan brand of hash browns, etc) I went nuts every morning with the fullest breakfast I could muster. Amazing.

Went to a fascinating talk about Apocalypse scenarios and why we love thinking about them so much.

My good friend Lyall came to visit, to demo the wonderful game his company has created — Beasts of Balance. Played a lot of games of it, got very excited.

Also went to a talk about Imposter Syndrome, which ironically convinced me that I don't actually suffer from Imposter Syndrome, I'm just genuinely not very good at things. Hm.

We had Wagamama for dinner, and yo, Wagamama, you fucked up my order AGAIN. They were v apologetic for feeding me egg (been an upset vegan this month, more on that later), and as apology, gave me a replacement meal and free dumplings, which I ate all of, very fast, oh dear.

On the last day, I only went to one talk, but it was about EUROVISION, so clearly the most exciting of them all. Me and Alex also had a very lovely meander over beautiful Hammersmith bridge in the glorious sunset, which was actually one of my highlights of the whole trip.

We procrastinated leaving the hotel for AGES the next morning by watching lots of olympics. Actually spent a remarkable amount of time chilling out in the hotel room watching olympics during the whole weekend, which was utterly lovely.

We eventually made it back to Brighton where I further cemented my burgeoning friendship with Little Black Cat by spending like a whole 20 minutes sitting in the garden snuggling together, with no claws or running away scared on either of our parts.

Sorry Justin.
(Alex and Justin love 'Genius Rules of the Game', a ridiculous Korean reality show)

Had to go a funeral. Did a little family tree on the train home.

Had a really nice day. My friend Ben came to stay from Cambridge and we had burritos, bubble tea, and a lovely catch up. And I finally got a ring in my nose rather than a stud and it is soooooo much better.

Lots of lovely feels. Me and Little Black Cat fully mates now, proper BFFs, loads of lovely cat strokes. Also melting chocolate with minty tea, and listening to lovely radio. Treats.

Busiest time of year at work, making brochures. But we're nearly there!

I made good bulgar wheat for the first time ever, and now I highly endorse bulgar wheat.

Me and Alex went for a day trip to Hastings and it was GREAT!
I might have mentioned in the past that I have a long-running mission to visit every surviving UK pier. As we're moving away from this area in January, I figured I really should get over to Hastings before we go, as it's only an hour or so by train from Brighton.
And the pier is a great one. Restored by the community, and co-operatively owned, the pier itself is a wonderful structure, and very well run, it was an absolute delight to visit, might even be one of my favourites so far.
We also had some great vegan lunch at the unpromisingly named 'Beer hall and hotdog emporium', and I got a ride on a brilliant funicular railway. A+++ day out.

(And later, friends Stina and Renee came to stay, and Hannah joined us, and we got to play the very good new Dead of Winter expansion)

Recommend me gentle exercises and stretches for hurty lower back. I've got a hurty lower back :(
(Top quality hat game for Matthew's birthday though)

Went on one of my favourite walks, along the undercliff from Saltdean back to Brighton. Such gorgeous colours, chalk cliffs and brutal concrete path.

You guys I ordered pizza and they put anchovies on it, but I just picked them off and ate it but it still tasted of anchovies but anchovies are soooooo gooooooood so I kind of didn't mind but also feel very conflicted about enjoying it so much. SIGH.


Now. Let's September. More warm weather plz. I'm not complaining.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Boardgame explainers

So here’s a thing that’s kept me busy the last couple of evenings, a nice little collaborative project between me and my partner Alex.

Although we’ve worked on things together before, like Unstruck and ongoing Queen illustrations, those projects didn’t actually technically involve us in any way having to communicate with each other. They were basically Alex writing a thing, and me drawing a thing to match (and in the case of Queen, I don’t even actually have to read what Alex has written to do the drawings)

For this project we actually had to talk to each other. :O

Anyone who has been to our house or knows Alex will know that they have quite a thing for boardgames. Their towering collection is threatening to take over our living room entirely.

But as well as playing boardgames, talking about boardgames, thinking about boardgames, organising boardgames and writing about boardgames, Alex also has a passion for explaining boardgames, and the belief that, sometimes, there might be better — or different — ways of doing this than a traditional rulebook.

A chance to test this theory has come up, as they help run the ‘Nine Dice boardgames lounge’ at Nine Worlds geekfest for the second year running, this weekend. This is a great space for attendees of the con to take some time out and play any of a huge range of boardgames being bought along by the group of volunteers running the space, who will bring people together, set up play groups, and explain rules where necessary.

This year there's also an arcade, a chance to try out a whole range of physical and digital games, but there won't be enough people to supervise each one. Alex wanted to create some basic explanation sheets for some of the simpler games, so that the games could look after themselves. They see this as potentially being part of an ongoing larger project to produce these for lots of other games, but for now, we’ve just done it for four: Concept, Dancing Eggs, Click Clack Lumberjack and Zoowaboo (these are mostly children’s games, but all have proven super fun for adults as well)

(Click the images to view larger)

We’ve worked together to try and create something fundamentally different from rule books, as these, even for a simple game can be daunting or complex looking (because the nature of rule books is that they need to cover all situations as well as basic gameplay).

These simple, single sided sheets are designed to sit alongside the rule books as a quick reference, so people new to the games can start playing as soon as possible.

I like their simple aesthetic, accompanied by some custom illustrations (although, for example, in the instance of Dancing Eggs, its mostly just recreating existing symbols created by the very talented Martina Leykamm)

We’ve worked together on these using my layout skills and Alex’s boardgame explaining logic (which is something they’re a lot better at than me!) to try and make these as straightforward as possible, while still including everything a player would need to know to get started, and hopefully play through a full game.

At some point in the future, we're hoping to take on some bigger, more complicated games, and maybe rethink the way people teach and learn games in general, but that's a bigger, tougher job, and not one we can fix before this weekend…

If you’re coming to Nine Worlds, come visit us in the Nine Dice Boardgames lounge to see our work so far in action!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

I'm still drawing illustrations of every single Queen song to ever have been written what am I doing with my life

My partner's valiant mission to review every single Queen song continues...

And in case you've forgotten, I ridiculously agreed to illustrate every one, a project which I've become remarkably passionate about, despite still hating Queen and most of the time just wanting it to be over. We just completed the Flash Gordon soundtrack for July, and let me tell you, there's an album with TOO MANY TRACKS.

Anyway, some of my favourites from the last few months...

Fight from the inside

More of that Jazz

Fun it

Dreamer's Ball
(This, and others, make use of Flickr's incredible collection of copyright free historic illustrations, which you can access by searching for keywords with the 'no known copyright restrictions' filter applied. Some keywords work better than others, but it's an amazing resource for collage and full of incredible oddities. Explore it.)


Need Your Loving Tonight

Another One Bites The Dust

Battle Theme

Flash to the Rescue

Escape from the Swamp

Arboria (Planet of the Tree Men)

The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash)

In the Death Cell (Love theme reprise)

Bear in mind... I typically spend 20 minutes or less on these because there are just so many to get through and if I spent any more time it would feel like my entire life was illustrating Queen songs (it sometimes feels that way anyway). These are some of my favourites... If you want to see all the bad ones too, you should read the blog!

We're just getting started on album number 10, 'Hot Space'...

Monday, 1 August 2016

July 2016

July has felt LONG, but in an entirely good way, because I've mostly been trying to fill it up with lots activities to distract myself from politics, and have mostly succeeded. (Sorry guys, no angry paintings of Nigel Farage this month)

The month still started off with lots of intense conversations trying to work out what the hell was going on/going to happen, including one particularly cathartic evening where a huge number of friends gathered in the Battle of Trafalgar and generally ranted at each other with despair and fear and the occasional horrified LOL for a few hours.

So generally I don’t like hymns. One of my favourite things about switching to Quaker church has been not having to sing/be sung at any more. But there are a couple of hymns that get me every time, and this is one of them… In Quaker church, a woman stood up and talked a little bit about the current turmoil, the nature of change, its positives and negatives… and mentioned how much this particular section of hymn stays with her, even though she no longer attends hymn singing worship. It’s one that gets me too, and it was nice to be reminded of it without actually having to sing. (I know I am atypical in this respect and that for lots of people the only redeeming feature of church is some of the nice songs) (Just about the only other hymn that stirs anything in me is ‘one more step along the world I go’, which, despite being meant for children is guaranteed to bring me out in floods of embarrassing emotional tears)

Me and Alex went on holiday to the Netherlands and it was GREAT. I’ve been working really hard on not getting anxious while travelling, because I’m quite a worrisome traveller. Had a genuinely lovely and very smooth journey over to Naarden-Bussum where our friends Scott and Susan live, in which we had nice seats on nice trains racing through the European countryside in the sunshine, vegan kebabs, old Chris Morris radio shows, and I was generally super chill about the whole thing, which was really nice.

After getting settled in with Scott, Susan and family, we spent the day in Amsterdam... Amusingly, we ended up wandering around the same mostly deserted industrial estate as last time, but this time in the sunshine and with much more purpose. We visited some incredible flea markets (Brighton people, imagine Snooper's Paradise, but 10x bigger and full of 100x more amazing stuff)... We had brilliant vegan seaweed burgers in cafe Ceuvel, and we went up onto the roof of the Amsterdam Science Museum, which is an amazing building.

The next day we traveled on from Scott and Susan’s house to our friend Lara in Haarlem. I started getting a really terrible cough, and ended up having a small panic attack on a train in which I couldn’t breathe without retching and thought I was going to vomit/pass out/both… Luckily I had Alex there to look after me/calm me down, but it put a downer on what should have been incredible exciting because it was only a DOUBLE DECKER TRAIN! (It's okay guys I got to go on another double decker train the next day)
Anyway, the whole thing left me feeling kind of stressed and I was feeling a bit ill anyway, but we had a really nice time exploring Haarlem again with Lara, and we got to go back for a second round of the world’s best chips and amazing ‘yoghurt barn’ yoghurt… Plus evening boardgames. And Lara's partner Tim bought over some amazing soup leftovers from the cafe he works at, which we had alongside vegan burgers. All of this massively cheered me up.

On the Friday, we travelled on to Rotterdam, for NORTH SEA JAZZ! North Sea Jazz is a jazz festival that me and Alex decided to attend one day of, because of the amazing electronica leaning line-up, plus a chance to finally see Kamasi Washington with full orchestra. We weren’t sure how big it would be, like… maybe a few hundred, couple of thousand people? It was TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE. A DAY. (Four day festival). This was insane, and by far the biggest event of any kind I’ve been to. It took place in ‘Ahoy’, a vast, multi building conference venue, with two huge stadium sized venues plus loads of other smaller (but still massive) stages.
Everything was ridiculously expensive, but incredibly well run, which is probably the way round I prefer it. (Although resented paying a euro to wee)
Things didn’t start very promisingly… We rolled up at around 18.00, and needed to get some food before we really got started seeing things… Alex judged well, and managed to find some fairly decent vegan satay skewers. I judged poorly and ended up with a tortilla flatbread filled with nothing but iceberg lettuce. Which cost me around 8 euros and was meant to see me through 7 HOURS OF JAZZ. Shit.

Anyway, the jazz was amazing. I was most excited about the Flying Lotus curated Brainfeeder stage, where I first of all saw Jameszoo Quintet, who were brilliant. I then joined Alex at a talk by Christian Scott and Kamasi Washington about civil rights and music, which was powerful and fascinating, covering everything from Miles Davis to Saul Williams and much more in between.

After that we saw a bit of Thundercat, but to be honest the sound balance sounded really bad, so we left that and went to watch Antonio Sanchez talk about creating the soundtrack of Birman. (If you’ve not seen it, it’s basically nothing but freeform jazz drumming, and it’s INCREDIBLE). He was fascinating, and even gave us some live improvised jazz drums, which was such a treat.

Next we went to the vast main auditorium and absolutely revelled, soaked, delighted in Kamasi Washington and the Metropole Orkest. It was probably one of the most moving live music experiences I’ve ever had. You should listen to his album from last year 'The Epic'.

I dashed off from that, haggled a pizza stand to do me a cheese free pizza for just 4 euros (and it was SO GOOD), and then went and danced like crazy to Flying Lotus, who, after debating out loud whether he should be doing jazz stuff, played an hour of fierce electronic bangers with possibly the strobiest light show I’ve ever experienced. This was also one of the best live music experiences I’ve ever had. Two in a row is QUITE A TREAT.

After this we went back to the main auditorium to see James Blake. I love James Blake but Alex hates him, and spent the whole thing moaning that everything sounded the same, and pointed out that he looks like a year 11 school bully (cannot unsee).

Finally (at around midnight by this point), we headed back over to the Brainfeeder stage to see Kneedelus, which is Daedelus and Kneebody’s collaboration. They were sublime as always (I saw them live last month), and utterly charming.

Then we dashed off to get a train back to our Airbnb, briefly catching Pharell en-route. It’s worth noting that this whole holiday was tinged with delightfully pro-Europe sentiments… Everywhere we went, there were people talking about how much we need to stick together and be friends and it was a pleasing antidote to all the anti-EU junk doing the rounds in the UK. (I wish we could have just stayed in NL tbh) We caught Pharell jumping around being happy about Europe and it was lovely, and several of the other performers we saw alluded to or outright mentioned how important it is that we cooperate and stay close and work together to try and drag ourselves out of this depressing political pit we’ve got ourselves into.
How much difference 25,000 jazz fans in the Netherlands can make is debatable, but it was nice to hear the sentiments repeated by people I love and respect.

Anyway, tl;dr, JAZZ.

Anyway, the next day was home time, but I was very sad to have to leave our gorgeous 9th floor airbnb in Rotterdam. We had a nice day exploring Rotterdam itself before we left on a late train, I’d very much like to go back and spend more time in that city. The Netherlands is great.

One day before going back to work to gather my thoughts/holiday detritus. Such a fun little holiday and so lovely to see friends and music and eat so much tasty food.

So this was maybe a BIT MUCH but Daedelus is so great I went up to London to see him do a show in super intimate new venue Echoes in Haggerston. Lovely to catch up with him again, we had a nice chat about North Sea Jazz from our different perspectives on it.
This show was straight up button-pushing-dance-inducing as opposed to jazz, and it was BRILLIANT, plus I got to catch up with fellow super-fan Mel, which was lovely.
(Although Southern Rail/Fail then stranded me in London, which on the one hand was bad, but on the other hand lovely Bex came to the rescue by letting me sleep on her sofa, and I got to see Bex, so actually it turned out to be another bonus friend catch up, which was nice!)

And then, a couple of days later, up to London again. BUSY. (And far too reliant on Southern Rail for my liking)

Reggie Watts is an American comedian/musician probably currently best known for being the band leader on James Corden’s late late show, but he has a long history of bizarre surrealist musical improvisation (helps that he’s got probably the most incredible vocal range of almost anyone out there and is a loop pedal genius).

We met about 6 years ago at the Brighton Fringe festival, after which he took me on a series of increasingly unlikely adventures, only ended when I got a full time day job and decided to ‘settle down’ with Alex. But we’ve always stayed in touch, and he finally made it back to London playing a huge show at the Royal Festival Hall. I got a wonderful glimpse into the depths of the Southbank, ate loads of free snacks, and ended up in Bethnal Green Working Men’s club at 1am, dancing to disco watching a woman hula hoop and trying to avoid getting covered in glitter. Never a dull moment…

Such a delight to catch up with Reggie again, AND, because I don’t trust Southern Rail (and wanted to stay out late and party), my friend Michael very generously offered me a bed at his house for the night. The next morning we caught the bus to vegan Black Cat Cafe and had an incredible and giant vegan full English, and a lovely catch up. Then, train back to Brighton, decompress, relax, try and catch up on some sleep…

Yes, I am playing pokemon. Obviously. It’s definitely been a big contributing factor in distracting me from the June-gloom. It’s so delightfully social and collaborative, I’ve had so many heartwarming experiences playing this game, not to mention just walking around in the sun for miles and miles (which, admittedly, I would probably have been doing anyway because I do walk a lot, but hunting for imaginary monsters has added even more joy to the process).
This was a busy evening of Hannah’s birthday dinner and welcome home George drinks, with Brighton drenched in hot sunshine and covered in lures. A delight.

Hottest day of the year, my boss bought everyone at work lollies, and then after work, beach BBQ with Justin and Wes, in which we found the perfect place in the shade and cooked delicious vegan burgers and sausages and I dunked my feet in the sea and fell in love with Brighton all over again (which is not helpful when I’m trying to fall out of love with the place)

Future house goals
1. Two toilets
2. Dishwasher
3. Underfloor heating (this one may be more ambitious than I’ll ever get)

Made some AMAZING chocolate and raspberry marbled brownies…

You might have sensed a certain amount of happiness so far this month. A combination of sunshine and a huge number of lovely distractions meant that I’ve managed to maintain some kind of bubble against grim outside news. I’m still seeing it all but had mostly been managing to cushion myself from its impact…

And then, almost as though tempting fate by doing such an illustration the previous day, I had a bad day at work, read lots of depressing articles about Trump and had a massive personal crisis WHAT AM I EVEN DOING etc

It’s the busiest time of year in my job as we push through creating several large brochures, and around this time I usually get a certain amount of what I refer to as ‘brochure fatigue’. Powering through.

I’ve also got a couple of freelance jobs on the go, which I’m trying to tell myself bodes well for my future part-freelance ambitious, but is actually pure fluke and not a representative example of the amount of work I can pull in. (But hey guys, did I mention I’m available for freelance work? HMU.)

Anyway, spending a lot* (*all) of my evening time in the last week or so doing other work work, so felt a little neglectful in the quality of my visual diarying. Gotta try and keep the standard up, mostly for the sake of my own personal pride!

 Gave myself a night off on Friday to celebrate Justin’s birthday eve and George’s birthday eve eve. (But still did a pretty poor visual diary, because socialising)

On Saturday I baked a weird cake for Justin (chai tea and summer berries, flavour concept good, actual ability at baking mediocre) and then in the evening lots of people came over and we ordered a vast quantity of vegan chinese food and played some games. It was utterly lovely although I did eat too many noodles.

Then for George’s birthday on Sunday, I went over in the morning and we baked some more cakes (George was very excited to try and create a vegan Lamington, which is apparently an Australian confection of vanilla sponge coated in chocolate icing and coconut bits), and dyed George’s hair (my first ever experience of hair dying, am now successfully enrolled in 'The Dignified Order of George's Hair Colorists and Bleachers'.)

It was also my dance teacher’s birthday, so I went to dance class along with EVERYONE ELSE because she insisted we all had to come, so there were like 40 people crammed in there, and we all danced to a song about it being your birthday, and afterwards there was CAKE. 

After that, I came home, ate some dinner, and then we headed over to George's to eat the Lamington and play Guitar Hero, and it was SO NICE I was very sad to have to leave early because I was just too tired and it was a school night. What a loser, eh?

Bloody hell, writing that all down it's been quite a July. I hope August treats me as well. Trying to work out a balance of keeping the political horror at bay while also trying to work out what can be done by a small person such as myself to try and make some kind of difference. (I'm afraid I didn't give £25 of my money to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and am still wondering whether that was a mistake or not. If they hadn't timed the deadline right before pay day maybe I would have done)

I hope you're all holding up okay. Let's try and have a nice August, okay?