Monthly Archives: October 2016

A carnival of clowns

It is that beautiful time of year again, you know, the time of year where leaves change colour and start to cover the pavement in warm colours, when there is a tinge of frost on your breath as you rust to the bus stop in the morning, when you start hearing reports of clowns terrorising your local….

Oh wait, what?

This is a fairly new phenomenon that I really didn’t realise was even… well a phenomenon until very recently. In late August reports started coming out of America that people dressed as clowns were trying to lure children away into forests. This quickly escalated into the clowns coming up to residences and appearing at windows, banding on doors, being a nuisance. I wasn’t alone in wondering at the logic of this, in a country where guns, to a degree are fairly commonplace. I assumed, that this would just be something isolated to America… or maybe I hoped. But no, it wasn’t long before they turned up in the UK. Now, living in Northampton, we had the Northampton Clown a couple of years ago (I am now informed that this was in correlation with the release of either the book or film, IT) who has since been unmasked. In all fairness, he was fairly laid back, and would leave cryptic messages on his FB page, giving clues as to where he would next turn up. He would always just appear standing in the middle of a car park, street corner. Always quiet, never interacting. 

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But since then, things certainly seem to have escalated. It is hard to pin down exactly when clowns started becoming synonymous with Halloween, or when they started terrorising locals – I mean until the Northampton Clown, it was not something I had come accross. And given to urban legend, second hand stories and various differences around the country, you will get told either they haven’t until this year, or that it just something that happens every autumn. Although this year is slightly different in that this escalated quickly and the police have since had to put their foot down and stated that anyone dressing as a clown will run the risk of being arrested on sight. 

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But is dressing as a clown any different from other festivities that come along with this time of year? This is the last hurrah, the party before we all buckle down for potentially a hard winter. I mean traditionally… historically if you will. Halloween has always been a time for scares, pranks, for the veil between the living and the dead to be that little thinner. All Hallows… Eve? and The art of carnival! both explore the history behind our need to let loose. I mean even looking at the football season, especially when it is an international tournament. The fact is that, we are tuned into needing days to let off steam. We are lucky that now we have, as a basic standard, a 5 day working week and 4 weeks holiday, bank holidays. 

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And while I am meandering to my point, bank holidays, to a greater extent have taken over from festival days, although I don’t wish to repeat myself if you have clicked the links to my previous blogs. Not, actually, all that long ago, we didn’t have the luxury of time off, and relied on festival days to blow off steam. Halloween is a time of year that we are slowly taking back. It has always been a time of celebrate, but we have slowly moved it over to a child’s holiday, not something for adults to concern themselves with. Why would we want to dress up and pretend to be someone else? Why would we want to put on a mask for an evening? Why indeed! 

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I don’t condone the idea of people dressing up as clowns to terrorise people, frankly, outside halloween it is kinda.. creepy whether you like clowns or not. And it really does give people the excuse to cause trouble. That is really why there were traditional feast days, and carnival days. So that everyone understood that is was a ‘day off’ from roles, responsibilities, that everyone was on the same level. A sort of, wholesale ‘what happens in Vegas’ situation. 

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So dressing up as a clown at will, from late summer, approaching children, tapping on windows, and hell, even attacking people? This is really not acceptable, there is a reason while, as a society, a global one at that, we are all feeling rather uneasy. It really doesn’t matter what your intention is.. although sorry if you are going to dress up as a clown, you must realise that you have a 70/30% chance of terrorising or upsetting people. Just stick to Halloween weekend/night. And stay either in a club/nightspot, or home. Don’t think it is big or clever to scare innocent people. We have Fright Nights, we have movies, we have enough ‘safe places’ to get scared where we will also be guaranteed comfort and support should anything untoward happen.

I am sorry to sound like such a downer, I love clowns, I love clown makeup, and I adore halloween. But everyone has a right to be safe (even dressed as a clown) and to enjoy themselves! 

HAPPY HAUNTING!

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Life before the internet

I woke this morning to the following question in a group ‘Older WOW players, what did you do before the internet’ – it is was posted in a game specific post and of course garnered plenty of answers along the lines of ‘we went outside’. The game itself, if you are not already familiar with it, has players of all ages, and worrying as it is to think about, there may well be players who have only known a world in which the game exists.

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But this question is very ambiguous – what is the question asking? Older – how are we quantifying this, if we don’t know how old the original poster is? Older than the internet maybe? But then, the internet is pretty old, broadband is still relatively new in the lifespan of the internet and MMORPG’s (massively multiplayer on line games) are also relatively new. I only really had free access to a personal computer from my early twenties. Before that I was relying on a flatmates or more often, using one at work in my free time. I understand that things have changed, and that most people will have access to the internet freely whether that is via their phone or another computing device.

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My reply to the question as posted in the group is as follows :

What is the question, how did we game or how did we entertain ourselves? Because they are 2 different questions. For example, old as I am, there have been computer games of a sort my entire life so really the only difference is that I now play an mmorpg. If the question is what I did for entertainment with friends?! We would go to each others houses which meant giving our parents a break for a few hours while we ate our friends out of house and home. With regards to entertainment generally, if you are asking how hobbies have evolved, are you asking what people did when they were younger? Because that hasn’t changed a great deal for me. The biggest change for me is communication which is that I no longer tie up the phone for hours on end and can have a conversation spanning and hour, an evening, or days as the participants dip in and out.
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For me the question is still troubling, is it asking what did we do for entertainment as children? Which I guess is implied as it is directed to ‘older’ players? But then, we would have changed what we do naturally as we get older. We might go out more, go out less, have more responsibilities, or more disposable income to spend on expensive hobbies. But the internet is more than just a game, for example, to link in with a recent show – we have access to things like Netflix. So not only do I get to play online, with other players and therefore interact real time with people, I can stream tv shows, movies, documentaries that are ready when I am, and… well let us now get started on my love of social media. 
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What did we do without the internet? Or what did we do before the internet? The answer is, we did things differently. We did most of the same things, if you enjoy outdoors, walking, running, cycling, riding… the internet has not changed this. If you enjoyed gaming with friends, tabletops? This still happens, but now you can also play games like WoW, gaming itself has been around long enough that really the internet has not changed this either. If you enjoy reading? Well, now we can buy books online and have them transferred onto our kindle (other reading devices, I am reliably informed, exist… ), if you love movies, cinemas still exist, people still love going out to see movies on the big screen. But yes, we can no stream movies, and shows etc when it suits us. There is very little that has ceased existing because of the internet, or been entirely replaced because of the internet although it might have been supplemented.
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So what is the answer? Well maybe the question might be, when you were my age, what did you do? That might have made more sense! 

Learn by watching

So this week on the show we are looking at You Tube and of course I look at makeup tutorials for inspiration and direction from time to time. But what actually prompted this blog was a ‘light bulb’ moment. I am going to be doing a blog on eye brow products – mostly inspired by my own mother. And then I realised, there has been a monumental shift in how we learn about makeup.

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Years ago, really people of my generation and above, will say that they remember how their mother applied their lipstick, watching her getting ready for work, or to go out in the evening. Often our first makeup was ‘borrowing’ our mothers products. So our first, hesitant steps into the work of face paint would be whatever our female relatives have at hand. Obviously if you were lucky enough to have an older sister it would broaden your experience.

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We would learn what products are ‘normal’ to use, and probably be guided in colours by our mother. When we first go out into the world to pick up makeup, we would go with what is safe. Although shopping with girlfriends would involve glitter EVERYTHING and hair mascara.

Recently I was at an Urban Decay event (which I am going to be writing up) and we had 3 different age groups, and it was funny that the uni student commenting on how on point the school leavers are, and they in turn saying that the year 7’s are even more on point with makeup. Year 7’s in makeup? I am not even sure how to process it. But you will have to forgive me, I grew up in the Eighties, so that was not exactly a great decade for makeup inspiration… nor were the Nineties if we are going to be honest. However, things really have changed.

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Are we not all guilty of utilising You Tube to learn new skills? I don’t know about you but I spend plenty of time on You Tube researching makeup, seeing new ideas, learning new skills. So really the only difference is that girls first learning about makeup are using the tools available to them, no different from anyone else. It is just that when they are first experimenting with makeup they are being exposed to trends, and brands and their expectation is different. And let’s be honest, the make up market has exploded in recent years. There is a lot more choice, both drug store level, high end but many more independent brands to choose from.

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You Tube gives people, of all ages, background, ability a platform – a platform free of big advertising and marketing budgets. It is honest, it is personal. There are so many things that you can find on You Tube. I spend as much time looking at makeup as I do listening to music. You Tube is my tool for procrastination. Because you have so many awesome suggestions to go check out. And often (in my experience) it doesn’t matter what you started off looking for … you end up looking at entirely unrelated videos – just ask Robb who in last weeks show explained that while he might start off looking at workout videos… somehow he finds cat videos.

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And it offers skills, for me, there are numerous videos showing different makeup techniques, hints, tricks, dupes, a fabulous resource that will help you nail the look you are trying to polish. And what is really great about these videos is that you will find one that clicks. You will watch countless that while very well done, and easy to follow… it doesn’t quite gel. Now for tomorrows show, I am going to be following a video uploaded by Moth Queen Makeup (go find her on You Tube and Facebook – tell her I sent you!) for the radio show. To make things interesting, I will not be doing a trial run, and will try and cobble together a video myself. I have followed MQM for a while and find her videos really easy to follow and she uses a mix of products often finding products that are a lot kinder on the wallet. So… I will see how that goes and do a write up following the show!

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You Tube is a fantastic resource, you will find help for almost anything. But please, please sure a little common sense when copying anything you have learnt. If it feels wrong, makes you uncomfortable, or you just aren’t sure… don’t do it. Keep looking and see if there is another video that might offer a better solution. And one more thing – while I may be older than a lot of people watching makeup videos, and am learning tips, and tricks that many a 14 yr old will do without thinking – do not for a moment think you are too old. I see so many comments on various makeup themed groups asking if people are too old for a certain look (always discouraging when the person asking is younger!). What I love about makeup is that like any other art, it is constantly evolving and changing and we have access to so many tutorials now be it You Tube, Facebook, or any other number of social media platforms. We are no longer beholden to the makeup of our mothers, we are able to make choices, find new brands, new ways of using the makeup we already own, different looks, the possibilities are endless, and best of all – you can do it all in the comfort of your own home! 

Fighting Fit

So, last weekend I went to Combat Academy, I was invited along with my Lifestyle:MK co-host Audrey who had met the brains, and brawn behind the enterprise earlier that week on a T.V show. On a Sunday morning, in a unassuming part of Leighton Buzzard which on the drive there led me up the garden path quite literally. To find out more – please CLICK HERE

We finally realised that we had arrived when we spotted people standing around in camo fatigues – is that even the right word? Berets were also employed. It all looked very serious. And I am not a serious person (despite all the ranting blogs I throw around!) so I was genuinely worried that I would immediately find a clash of personalities. There were smiles and warm welcomes from everyone, we were then ushered into the porta-cabin that serves at the head quarters. It was open with plenty of room, and the people already in the room were again welcoming. Not long after we sat down, we had another group of girls join us – who were also invited, including the utterly inspiring Rozana McGrattan who has been through so much growing up on the streets in Sao Paulo – she has released a book titled Street Girl which you can pick up easily on Amazon by CLICKING HERE (although I am sure other booksellers carry it).

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It was a lovely environment, we all talked about ourselves, that is, everyone in the room, staff, senior members, and of course, those of us hoping for a spa day (thanks Aud) and it was a really relaxed atmosphere. We felt a little closer to each other, breaking the ice. Once that was over, we had a little training session discussing common mistakes, issues and how to avoid, and what to do in certain situations. This was laying down the theory behind both predictor and prey and putting things into context before the laying of hands.

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Now, given the choice, I would have stayed out of the physical part of the day. I didn’t think I would be fit enough, that I would catch on, I was worried about my shape (I am squishy). Would I be able to do any of these things, would my leggings stay up? (the last is a legitimate concern!) And of course I didn’t want to make a complete prat out of myself in front of strangers, and worse, professionals who no doubt would be judging me.

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It got worse, after warming up, being show some simple moves, instead of being split into small groups, we would be going out in front of the rest of the group? KILL ME NOW! But the atmosphere was wholly supportive, cheers and clapping. And while you are in the moment, you actually do forget everything. It was fun, the first part of the training was about distance and how to keep the distance between you and your aggressor. Which reminded me of the boxing training I did all that time ago.

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As the training progressed, it got progressively harder, punches coming, remembering to block, and block well. Looking for openings and grappling with people who were making it harder and harder. Oh and did I mention that we also had to drop and pin someone? I am sure I am not using the correct terminology. But for those seconds (felt like hours) I wasn’t worried about what I looked like, I wasn’t pulling at my t shirt, shifting my weight, avoiding peoples stares. I was in the moment, I was doing my best, I was learning skills that I genuinely could use.

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During the time we were outside, there was a real sense of family, we cheered each other one, we congratulated each other. It felt like a group of friends, not people who to a degree had never met each other. We felt elated when we did well, we were not looking for our team mates to do badly, we were watching their techniques and cheering when they nailed it. At no point did it feel like we were being judged for anything other than how we implemented what we had learnt.

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Toward the end the session, we got to watch the instructors and regulars pitch against each other, it was interesting to see how simple techniques and ideas could be used in different ways. And inspiring, very inspiring! The day was finished off by a debrief where we all had a chance to chat and go over what we had learnt and how we felt about the day. Even though I initially had reservations about the boot camp, and given the choice, there are many, many things I would have chosen to do? I really, really enjoyed it! Four hours flew by, all preconceptions that I had when I first arrived were quickly, and thoroughly dispelled. There was no macho, regimented, army atmosphere.

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What you will find, and what I found, is a safe, supportive environment. You will learn a lot about yourself, about habits you have, what you may want to change. The thinking is based in fact, and practised. You come away with a lot to think about, and have the understanding of why, and not just how. And you feel like you made friends, and that everyone there wants to help, and support you, and for you to succeed. And you don’t get to go before a round of hugs. All barriers that may have been in place, any nerves, any apprehensions that you had when you first get out of your car…. all completely gone by that last hug.

And I am going back tomorrow for another round – wish me luck! 

The BiG oppression

I couldn’t want for TBBT to start. I have more recently given in to box sets, but before that, I too watched shows on a weekly basis. Once show that I really enjoyed was TBBT. I identified with Sheldon, worrying finding he quoted me. I found it a fun show, and as the series continued and new characters added – I found this did not diminish the show as one might worry that it could.

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But watching an episode this evening (actually happening right now, the SO still watches it religiously) and I noticed something that has been done time and again.. and i am not sure if the meaning or agenda behind it is missing the point or nailing it exactly. In the scene playing out in my peripheral vision, we have 2 cars, 2 occupants in each car. Male passenger, and female driver in each. Cut to another scene where we have a male character standing in a kitchen wearing an apron. Visual emasculation even if not directed.

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From previous episodes we know that Sheldon doesn’t drive, however, Leonard does drive so there is no reason for him not to drive. But it mirrors – so visually it is pleasing even if you aren’t really sure why, and it makes it easier to draw comparisons between the conversations going on in the car.

Back at the house, there are 2 male characters, and one female. But of course, yet again, we have the relationship of Howard and Raj questioned as well as Raj’s clear femininity. Does this make people uncomfortable? Or does it make the question usual gender roles?

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For me, yet again it is the idea of the ‘man child’ that is yet again bought up in the show, and conveniently, having female characters helps them overcome simple tasks that would have been met with confusion. Amongst the main (male) characters, we have Sheldon who doesn’t drive, Leonard does drive. Howard drives a moped, and although Raj apparently does drive, there is little or no screen time given to this fact. We have a scene in a previous episode where all the male characters are in the same car, and it breaks down. They understand the principal of the combustion engine but can’t fix their engine. So they are emasculated again. Isn’t this what would happen to a car full of girls?

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The boys in the show are so enveloped in their scholastic endeavours, they play computer games in their spare time, go to conventions, and collect comics. They to varying degrees have no social skills. Everything about them, their references, their hobbies, their job, speech patterns are all designed to make them stand out, to struggle to make themselves understood. And there are only so many series that could really be written about ‘and Englishman in New York’ so we find that Penny has more company, to help make sense of their journey’s, new directions and story lines can be written that gives the male characters more dimensions.

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And in this, strange alternate universe… the women are dominant. In subtle ways, we have Bernadette who is better qualified than her husband, Penny, who is charming, pretty, and fits into any social situation with no effort, and Amy who is on the surface a perfect match for Sheldon, mentally and in her employment. But somehow still manages ot have greater social skills.

The more I watch TBBT the more I feel that it is making fun of these men, that instead of us being able to passively able to enjoy a culture that we love in a main stream format, it is exactly what we love that is being used to get laughs. And instead of finding the female characters empowered, and raised in profile, they are just carrying out the same duties that their mothers before them stereotypical would have done, and are having to run around for these men, who are to all intents and purposes still children. I mean who reads comics as an adult, or plays computer games?

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Well the answer is a large portion of the population which is why the show has been so popular but I do genuinely suggest that the show at its very core is subversive in nature and I just don’t get any enjoyment from traditional gender roles being enforced but dressed up in a more modern way.

You want something different but positive? Watch iZombie, Kimmy Schmidt, Super Girl, Jessica Jones, hell go old school and watch Buffy.

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Geek before it was mainstream

So, this weeks show is all about box sets and I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle the question from my gaze. What am I going to watch maybe, or cosplaying from popular shows (like GoT) but with a modern twist. Which I did respond to my co-presented with a rather over enthusiastic essay about cosplay which I don’t think was deserved and would probably would have served better as a blog. Then I got thinking about how both Marvel and DC are releasing films and television series which are very much mainstream.

I came up with the second idea this morning, but having given it some thought over the day, I think I can combine both topic ideas.

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My love of cosplay is well documented and so it is obvious for me to look at this side of things. However, when looking at updating a character like Dany from GoT, it really depends on where you fall in cosplay. There are those that will copy a costume exactly, those who will cross play, do casual looks based on a favourite character, armoured Disney princesses are popular at the moment, and to stay with a theme for a moment, apparel like Twisted Disney. But the one thing that remains constant in these is that you are instantly able to recognise the character. It is very much a visible acknowledgement of the character you are portraying. We work in visuals when we cosplay, often we are sharing on social media, or building portfolios, modelling our handiwork. So the costume we design needs to be visually identifiable.

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Which leads me to the observation (that I am not alone in making) that I am winding my way around to slowly. That pre millennium, every show was cleanly costumed. Let us take a quick look at the X Men – leading the way for comic to film cross over. If you didn’t ever pick up a comic, you may have come accross the X Men as a cartoon. And remember all those individual and interesting costume designs ? Each one designed for the personality of the wearer. This goes back to what I was saying about a visual representation of the character. Because comics are primarily a visual medium in the same way films are, with dialogue being secondary (and that is an argument we can have on another day). But if you put the X Men films alongside either comic or cartoon that you remember, there is a marked difference.

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The costume is identical for each member, the individuality is left at school. Once you become a full member of the team you dress, like a member of the team. If you look at shows like Agents of Shield, even shows like The Flash, Arrow, hell let’s throw Super Girl and Jessica Jones in there. The body of the story, the content for the majority of the episode is conducted out of costume. The segments of the show that see our hero, or anti hero in costume (if in fact there is one) is very small and tends to be there to underpin rather than highlight the entire show.

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It is easy to point out that tastes change, and that what was fashionable in the 70/80 and early 90’s certainly isn’t what is attractive to people any more. That we like things to have a sleeker design, just look at our phones, our cars, our lives. I could talk about how the uniformity indicates an end of childhood, and that even while different you are part of a controlled group. But again, a topic for another group. The fact is that superheroes have always worn a uniform but recently the uniforms have changed direction.

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And that, that is what makes these shows more accessible. The fact that we are not made uncomfortable by people dressing up, making fools of themselves, that for the most part they dress like ‘normal’ people. Even in films like The Avengers, they spend as much time in ‘civvies’ as they do ‘in costume’. If you look at shows like Batman (yes, I mean the one with Adam Weston) then you notice that there is a distinct flip between the amount of time that was spent in costume and the amount of time in say, the more recent spate of Batman movies.

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It is about accessibility, you can relate and understand and it makes the shows, and films more palatable to a wider audience. It means that the shows will be watched by people who have no interest or understanding of the background of the film of show – as can be seen by the popularity of the films spawns by the Marvel Universe. This is a genre that has bought the Geek culture into the mainstream. super heros previously resigned to only serious collectors or fans, banished to childhood are now being enjoyed by entirely new audiences because now, being interested in Geek Culture isn’t seen as bad as it once was.And let us not forget, the Avenger that most people want to laugh at Aquaman …. he is had a total make over, and I really cannot wait for that movie 😉

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As for box sets that you might want to check out – Netflix has an abundance, there is my personal favourite – Gotham, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Daredevil. Available on Sky – we have The Flash, Arrow, Agent Carter and Agents of Shield with more being planned.