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Archive for September, 2009

Persistence of Time

Where does the time go when it’s not around here?  Those words haunted me for years because it’s similar to something that I used to ask of the world around me.

As a child, it seemed like time was something we had in abundance.. like every precious minute would last an hour if we were having fun.  Within minutes of getting home from school I would cycle around to all my friends’ houses on my BMX and we would all travel down to the local track to practice our freestyle.

When we had exhausted ourselves of each trick… failing, falling, perfecting… we’d cycle the few miles back to our village and hang out on whichever street corner would have us that evening.  We’d sit there with our chips and Vimto, chatting for what seemed like a lifetime about how Eddie “The Flying Banana” Fiola and Bob Haro were breaking new ground every week on the Kellogg’s BMX Freestyle Championships.  Nothing else mattered… we wanted to be those guys, at all costs.

By the time we dispersed to our own homes, it was maybe 9pm… only five hours after we initially met up together, and yet we’d achieved so much and had so much fun together, as well as a hearty (if slightly unhealthy) meal.

At the time, those hours meant nothing – none of us wore a watch, none of us had a curfew to speak of and we only went home because we were satisfied that we’d achieved whatever we’d set out to do that evening.  Another hour in front of the TV with some toast and a cup of tea, and it was time for bed so we were refreshed in the morning for another day of school… and so they cycle continued.

What happened along the way?

Time alters as you get older, and precious minutes are stolen from every hour while you’re busy worrying about workloads or keeping up contact with your friends.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get to sit down to dinner around 6pm and by 7pm you’ll be busy doing whatever it is you plan on doing that night.  After what seems like only a few minutes, a quick glance to the clock jolts you as you realise it’s almost 10pm.  It can’t be. It was only 7pm when you last looked, and yet somehow those minutes disappeared forever and you’re already worrying about the next working day ahead.

Sometimes the mere thought of how the evening has vanished is enough to make me just want to go to sleep at that precise moment, in the hope that my dreams will be enough to convince my subconscious that I actually experienced something wonderful that day.   Most evenings I will simply rebel against time and my body’s impending defiance by forcing another three or four hours out of the day by placing myself in bed in front of the TV and watching whatever I can possibly find… anything… just as long as it takes up enough time to produce some semblance of a worthwhile passing of time.

The irony in this posting is that it’s 10pm and I’ve been staring between all three monitors for the last three hours.  Every now and again my eyes will flick to the left monitor as a new email comes in and I’ll either file it away or junk it.  I’ll then move back over to the main screen where I’m randomly surfing the web and nipping back to Facebook to see if anyone else has managed to do anything with their time, all the while darting my eyes to the right hand monitor where I’ll randomly select another track to listen to from my playlists.  Ultimately, I have achieved nothing… attempted nothing, and allowed the seconds to become minutes and, eventually, hours.

This isn’t how it was supposed to be though, don’t get me wrong.  I had planned to spend a couple of hours drumming and recording, but time slipped away as usual.  Now I arrive at the realisation that I’ve spent my evening wondering what to do with my time, yet I’ve left myself with no time to actually do anything about it.  My thoughts of how time vanishes while we’re wondering what to do with it prompted me to write this blog… and so another hour of my life has disappeared, never to return.

If I had the ability to go back in time… would I travel back to when I was a child and the minutes would last days, or merely to 7pm this evening?

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Antisocialite

The story goes that a funny thing happened on the way to the forum and, in my case, that’s certainly very true.  In 2003 I led a very solitary life but was a regular contributor to a forum which was set up to support and critique a paranormal TV show, and it was there that I met a girl who checked all of the boxes of my mental “Ms Right” criteria.  Being an extremely shy individual, it was difficult to lay those precious foundations which would later support a bridge from the online world into an offline personal meeting but, thankfully, my belief that you can’t let things slip past you got the better of me and enough courage was plucked to ask that girl to meet with me in London.

Plans were made to meet in Leicester Square, and I’d be very easy to spot as I’d be dressed entirely in black and trying to kick all the pigeons… way before the developers of GTA or Fable had even considered such cruelty towards our feathered friends.  We’d discussed having a lightsabre fight in Leicester Square, and bouncing along Thames Embankment on Space Hoppers but those delights never happened.

We DID meet though, on July 11th 2003… and we’re still together today.  Two very antisocial individuals with such hatred for mankind and pretty much everything that surrounds us, yet united in our unique outlook.

That same forum gave us both another great friend in Pete – a social butterfly who is rarely on his own and oft found darting from one social event to the next like a cross between Paris Hilton and the miniscule, yet powerful, hummingbird.  In social situations, Pete excels as his happy huggy nature radiates from him like he’d spent too many years holidaying in a very flimsy tent in Chernobyl.

Since then we’ve become very active in the gaming community – with Lorna participating on the Games TM forum, and both of us on the Ready Up forum.  My joining of the Ready Up forum coincided with my toe-dipping into the waters of Facebook, where I’d created an account perhaps a year before in order to write a module for our ecommerce software, but I’d never actually even gone so far as to create a profile or post any status feeds.  After several old friends tracked me down on Facebook and wanted to join my empty friends list, I figured I’d give it a go and actually announced myself to the world with a suitably bland and pointless status update.

Not long after, six of the Ready Up writers were going for a world record attempt for playing Burnout Paradise non stop over a 24 hour period.  The event was taking place in ESC, only a 30 minute train journey from us and, as Lorna is one of the writers and I’d followed the site for some time, we went along to watch the unfortunate six prop their eyelids open with Nintendo DS styluses (yes, I checked to make sure that was the correct word to pluralise stylus!) as they barrel rolled and flat spinned their way to success through the night until the following morning.

By the time they’d been awarded their plaques and had their photos taken, I had a bunch of Gamertags to add to my XBox Live friends list and a few new email addresses.  A few days later my Facebook friends list had gone from having five people, which is actually pretty impressive for someone like me, to a double figured count of ten and we’ve had the pleasure of Rook, Victor and Tiq staying with us on several occasions for weekends (or weeks) of gaming and general merriment.

Fast forward a few months to around July of this year, and several online sessions of Burnout Paradise over XBox Live not only increased the number of friends on my XBL friends list… or the number of friends on my Facebook account… but the spillage of virtual friends to offline friends also increased.  Mobile numbers and email addresses were exchanged and any breaks garnered throughout the day were spent sending messages of support, rants, or general chit chat to my new friends.

Very recently, the pressure cooker of my friends lists finally exploded when almost everyone in question had the chance to meet up at a Ready Up forum get-together in the same venue that hosted the Guinness World Record challenge.  The basement of ESC was full of gamers, resplendent in their own excitement, some of whom I’d never spoken with before and many of whom I immediately recognised from their XBL cam shots or their profile pics.  What was supposed to have been a very simple weekend event with some relative strangers turned into much more than that… new friendships were formed and existing friendships became closer and stronger.  A rogue flu virus which appeared to incubate in the basement meant that Pete and Zoey had to stay on with us for another week until they fully recovered, which obviously wasn’t exactly very pleasant for them, but it was lovely to spend more time with them… albeit non-eventful time.

Now I find myself wondering when we’ll next have our friends come to stay and, as much as I love the peace and quiet of having the house to ourselves again, I do miss walking into the lounge to spend time with my friends.

So a funny thing happened on the way to the forum… I still sport the same disdain and resentment for mankind as a whole and, as much as I wish I had Vader’s power of being able to render someone unconscious (or worse) with nothing more than the power of my mind and a flick of a finger, somewhere along the way the reinforced steel walls came down and I’ve become one of those people who actually enjoys spending time with other people.  I’m an antisocial person with a penchant for spending time with my friends, I am a contradiction to my own term.

I am… an antisocialite

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Competition Entry

Trials HDSomething happened recently.  Something that changed my world completely.  It wasn’t anything to do with global warming, the world economy, Jordan, or any of the other topics that seem to be sitting astride the tip of the average person’s tongue these days.  No, what happened was that competitiveness breached the reinforced defenses to my world and decided to squat for a while.

First of all, let me explain a little about me for the benefit of the uninitiated.  I’m not a competitive person, not at all.  I embrace those with more talent than I, because “the next person” should really have more talent than you, otherwise you have nothing to strive for.  Similarly, in a materialistic way, if you have everything that you could possibly want… there is no fun involved in getting through each day.  Sure, you could argue that the fun is getting through the day in order to USE those trinkets that you’ve surrounded yourself with… but if you already have everything then it would eventually become stagnant and devoid of any purpose.  It is, therefore, my belief that you should always be as good as you possibly can be… but try and improve upon yourself in order to perpetuate a reason to continue with improvement.  A vicious circle.

trials_01

It may look impossible, but this is one of the easier "hard" levels

I’ve always lived my life in that way, and my friend Pete once told me “your biggest competition is yourself” and he was right.  I’ve always been my biggest and fiercest competition.  If I manage to play a difficult song on the drums or the guitar one day, then I’ll hope to play it better the next and keep improving until there’s pretty much no further room for improvement.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – it’s what makes us grow as people, what makes us different from that aforementioned “next person”.  It’s why we have entrepreneurs, why we have child prodigies (although I’m sure their parents have a lot to do with that, in most cases) and why we have pride as one of our built in senses.  Without self improvement, we merely exist.

Why then, do I find it so damning to have found a sense of competition outside of my own mind?

Several weeks ago I did the unthinkable… I paid out 1200 MS points for an XBox Live Arcade game, thanks to Tony from Ready Up enthusing about how great this game was.  I was sceptical, as I’m not big on “driving” games and haven’t ever considered that an XBLA game could actually be THAT good… but the demo was free, we had some friends over gaming at the time, so I figured it’d be worth a shot.  How right he was!!  Even with only the few demo tracks to play around with, I found myself immediately immersed into the world of Trials HD, and laughed at Victor’s typical competitive nature as he cried “COCK!!!” every time he messed up (followed by an instantaneous restart of the level, of course!) and cries of “NEXT!!!” every time he managed to get to the end with zero faults.  Victor is, perhaps, the single most competitive person I’ve ever met in terms of gaming… but it’s just one of the things that makes him a great guy, and I find it hilarious to watch because I’m the opposite.  I play games for enjoyment and no other reason… or at least I did.

If playing through the levels isn't complicated enough, they even provide you with your own level builder... so you can frustrate the hell out of yourself with your OWN impossible levels!

If playing through the levels isn't complicated enough, they even provide you with your own level builder... so you can frustrate the hell out of yourself with your OWN impossible levels!

Buying the full version of Trials HD was a no brainer for me… it was fantastic from the start, and I knew I’d love playing it, so points were purchased and the full game was unlocked.  That was, as they say, the beginning of the end.

The first thing I had to do was to beat all of Victor’s times… just for fun!  There was no malice in my actions, and it wasn’t to be quicker than Victor, but I wanted to sit back and smile at the thought of Victor at home shouting “COCK!!!” at the telly while trying to improve on my times and rejoice with a hearty “NEXT!!!” after achieving that goal.

Beating Victor was just the beginning… and as I saw my times creeping up towards the top of my leaderboards I got a real sense of satisfaction.  To know that the person above me was only a fraction of a second faster than me made me strive to shave those few precious digits off my own time to put myself above them, and so it continued until eventually I was at the top of ALL my leaderboards.  In some cases, nobody could touch me… I’d be three or four WHOLE seconds faster than my friends on a track where 100th of a second was the difference between being on the leaderboard or being pushed out of sight.  I was happy, so very happy.  For the first time in all of my 27ish years of gaming I was actually GOOD at a skill game.  I wanted to remain at the top of the leaderboards at all costs, and any time I fired up the game and found someone else had beaten my time… it was war!  I found myself spending almost FIVE hours one night on one track, playing it over and over again until finally, at around 3am, I got back to the top of the leaderboard for that particular track.

For weeks I would check the leaderboards, and spend hours reclaiming my crown as “the best at Trials HD out of all your XBL friends who have that game” and it was GOOD.  My competitive edge was further honed with each new challenge.  This was a different side to my nature, and it surprised me to see that there even WAS a competitive side to my nature.

Where am I now?  After spending countless hours battling my way to the top of the leaderboards again I conceded.  I am no longer prepared to squander my evenings on the same 20 second track over and over again until I know every exact pixel point to adjust the rider’s position and ease off on the throttle.  I haven’t checked the leaderboards in almost an entire week, and when I drag myself back on XBL to play the game again this evening… I’ll be ignoring everyone that has managed to knock me off the top slot… and I’ll concentrate on completing the remaining levels at my own pace.

Competition is, as I recently discovered, a fantastic adrenalin rush.  It can make you feel on top of the world, knowing that you’re better than “the next man” at something.  It gives your friends something to strive for, knowing that they could knock you off that top spot once again and take great delight in bragging about it…

… and it can also swallow your life whole.

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The Mourning After

Today I laid a good friend to rest.

When times were tough, I could rely on them to take my mind of the harsh mundanity of life and inspire me to forget all negativity for a while. They introduced me to some wonderful new locations, fresh ideals, and an entirely different lifestyle as well as a way of surviving that I never thought possible. Whenever money was tight I only ever had to immerse myself in their world for a brief moment to remind myself that, no matter how bad things seemed to me, it was luxury compared to what they’d gone through in the past and continued to struggle with as each new day dawned.

For a long time I spent my working hours looking forward to the point where I could finally put my duties behind me and spend my evenings with them in quiet comfort. Our relationship had a closeness whereby we didn’t need to speak to one another to communicate, and yet there were never any awkward silences. If anything, the silence between us merely reinforced the fact that we needed each other to continue our journey and that we’d be there for each other until the bitter end. In the past I had watched helplessly as they dropped to their knees in agony, longing for someone to take away their pain… and I was the only one capable of stepping up to the plate. Whenever they had to venture into new territory, I was there to watch their back and they repaid me by making my own life so much brighter.

It wasn’t until their journey finally came to an end today that I suddenly realised how they filled so many empty hours with joy, and yet I never knew their name. We may have walked the wastelands together in search of a bright new future, carried each other through dark times and dragged each other to better places, but in all that time we never took even a brief moment to exchange names.

Now that it is over I mourn my friend the Lone Wanderer, and hope they continue to work towards a better tomorrow while I embark on a new journey… to fill the void.

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Social Fretworking

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was some sort of new fangled community for those who have a penchant for uber thin wood stencilling or a collective specialising in building rather decorative guitar necks. Unfortunately, it’s neither.

Instead, I speak of the psychological turmoil evoked when dealing with the newest of social protocols – adding people to a friends list. Whether it’s Facebook, XBox Live, Playstation Network or Twitter, we find ourselves faced with the quandary of either adding someone to our exponentially expanding list or declining their request in the hopes that they won’t take offence.

As someone who has spent their life holding vigil in whatever corners my darting eyes are able to quickly find for myself, I often wonder why so many people choose to add me to their lists. Are they genuinely trying to reach out and extend their circle of friends or are they merely collecting names in a bid to outdo others? Either way, it’s very easy to find yourself wondering who this person actually is and what they want with you. Why have they decided to add you to their collection, and will they ever step forward to make contact or forever dwell in the shadows adding more and more people to individual specimen jars until their true friends become lost amidst a sea of random strangers.

Where should the line be drawn, and how must we be perceived when we eventually muster enough courage to finally draw that cautious line in the sand? Until recently, the most complicated social conundrum was whether certain family members could be excluded from a wedding list without offending them or other members of the family, often resulting in overinflated guest lists when neither bride nor groom had the courage to follow through with their choice of exclusions. These days, however, we find ourselves considering the potential fallout on a daily basis should word ever get back to “Requester A” that they were refused entry to the coveted friends list while “Requester B” was immediately granted access to the secret society known as the inner circle.

As I perch precariously on the edge of the precipice of yet another friends list decision, I have to again weigh up the pros and cons. The nagging “friends requests” link burrows deep into my conscience, begging me to do the right thing; to open wide the flood gates and allow all and sundry into my world, yet I find myself torn between those that I know to be decent individuals and those that I don’t particularly care for because of their attitudes towards other “real” friends. My principles urge me to deny access to those that I find to be obtuse, and yet my social awkwardness leads me ever closer towards accepting all request to avoid showing favouritism, betraying all that I stand for.

To append or offend… that IS the question.

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