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Left work at 5pm. Walked to Waterloo to catch the 5.24pm to Epsom. Ate sandwiches on the train. Arrived in Epsom.

And There Will Be Your Heart Also, also

I have a headache looming, so I'm listening to And There Will Be Your Heart Also c/o YouTube in a bid to ease my pain. I've even been listening to this cover version, which while not improving on the original is a pleasant variation.

The Return of the Devourer

I wanted to run Lady Blackbird on Sunday. It's a great game, but it only really works if you have people who haven't played it before. I had two 'new' players lined-up to join us, though they made me aware they might not be able to make it. One of them has on-going health issues. What I should have done is planned a back-up adventure if they couldn't make it, but I didn't.

They dropped out at 4pm.

This wasn't ideal, as I was taking the kids back to their mother at the time, which meant I wouldn't have much time at home before the adventure began. Thankfully, I was able to cobble together a sequel to the previous week's adventure, using the Beowulf trope of You Thought That Monster You Fought Last Time Was Big Wait Until You See Its Mother This Week. Plus I've created a rich in-game mythology from which to draw, even if it is so long since we played Call of Cthulhu regularly that I can't remember it all. I'm also aware that I don't want to return to the well too often. It would be wrong to rest on past glories. Anyway, once again we had three players, with one different from the previous week. And again we had a laugh and solved the mystery. I would have liked more time to prepare, but much fun was had by all. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I took the kids to an afternoon showing. They were anxious for the adverts to end and for the film begin. Having been terrified by trailers when I was young (I vividly remember seeing trailers for The Terminator and The Elephant Man) I was a bit worried about what would be shown. I wasn't concerned so much about the actual content of the trailers, but rather the suggestion of horror. The trailer for Beautiful Creatures frightened Youngest Child, and he didn't seem keen on the look of Jack Reacher either. I don't know much about the former (though I have trouble with the idea of a character turning 'good' or 'evil' at a certain age) but I'm sure Tom Cruise ain't no Jack Reacher. Mind you, Keanu Reeves was no John Constantine, and I enjoyed Constantine more than I thought I would when I saw it years after release.

The Hobbit was good, but I'm not sure it was as good as The Lord of the Rings. My issue is I think The Hobbit is a much better book. There's a lovely tone of writing, which you just don't get in a film version. Plus, the film tied itself in knots to establish its connection with The Lord of the Rings. This probably made more sense to movie goers, rather than my two who are familiar with The Hobbit, but who have only read the first couple of chapters of LOTR. Eldest Child got so upset about Frodo selling Bag End that we had to stop reading. Apart from this I liked the changes that were made to the plot. The dwarves had greater depth, I could tell them apart, and they were more heroic.

Both children were excellently behaved despite the long running time. No-one needed to be taken to the toilet. I guess in my mind I still see them as they used to be rather than as they are now. Youngest Child figited a bit, but not excessively so. I felt all fatherly when they were scared. Eldest Child found the goblins much less frightening than she had when she'd imagined them in the book. There were hints of giant spiders, which sent chills, but in a good way. I was right to think carefully about whether to take them, but I was also right to book the tickets. I think children deserve 'good scares' which this film provided. It's hard to predict what children will frightening anyway.

Light spoilers follow. I'm not sure how much Radagast the Brown added to the story, though the fanboy in me wanted to see him. Maybe he'll play a bigger part in later films. Plus, while not my favourite Doctor, I look upon the McCoy era of Doctor Who with more fondness than some. While it was fun to revisit places and meet old friends again, it did mean we lost the excitement of the new. Oh look, it's Rivendell again. Like it was last time. While there were cameos by certain people, because they weren't in The Hobbit they had limited effect on the action. The opening scenes, in which we see Erebor before the coming of Smaug, were thrilling, as was the dragon's attack.

A tale of two parties...

On Wednesday I headed to Ashtead (a mere one stop by train) for the Writers' Circle Xmas Meal. I've been going for the past few years, despite no longer attending the adult education class. I've discovered that seeing the people involved once a year is enough for me. The students are perfectly nice, but the atmosphere of the class was just stagnant. Everyone was welcome to join the clique, but new students seldom lingered. I wasn't learning anything new - or meeting anyone new. You need fresh blood, otherwise the class becomes the same tired voices, saying the same tired things.

When looking for something I else, I stumbled upon an email to bethnoir from 2010 in which I asked: At my Writers' Circle meal there was much discussion about my vegetarianism. Is this really something worth commenting on? Still? Sadly, it continues to be an issue. Or rather, one student was disparaging about my melanzane parmigiana. I have always rather thought that if one did believe that a fellow dinner's meal looked 'disgusting' one should keep such an opinion to oneself. It's not that I care one iota for this person's opinion, it just seemed a curiously rude thing to say.

We were having perfectly decent chats when our meal was interrupted by the pub quiz. I hate pub quizzes. They ruin a perfectly good conversation. Also, I never know any of the answers. I made my excuses and left around 10.30pm, reasurred that I had made the right decision about the class. The story I tell about pub quizzes is: I went to a pub quiz directly after the royal wedding, the event around which the quiz was based. If there are two subjects on which I am ignorant it is weddings and royalty. The only time I shone was during the 'beat the intro' round when I correctly identified Busted's Crashed The Wedding, but it wasn't a moment of which I could be truly proud.

On Thursday it was my work Xmas meal. I found it difficult. I find large groups of people overwhelming. I'm not sure why. I'm hoping that by writing about it I might understand myself more. Proceedings kicked off with the staff choir performing. One of the choristers had asked me to film the performance. I was happy to do this. Not only am I getting more interested in filming, it also gave me something to do. I really hate Xmas songs - with the exception of The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping. Also, I was aware of much of the trauma the choir had been going through. They were diminished in numbers from the previous year. As more people quit, the self consciousness of those who remained increased. I thought they did a perfectly decent job, considering they were amateurs who practised in their lunch times.

As the canapes were served, I just wanted to flee. I'd been editing video footage in the morning, something I've not done much before, and been really enjoying myself as I learned a new skill. It's a sad day when I admit I would rather have been at my computer, working, than socialising with colleagues. I knew that if I did flee, I wouldn't be able to choose who I sat with for the meal. I did get to sit next to people I liked, but because there were four of us we ended up sitting on table with people we didn't know. The tables were so huge we couldn't have spoken to the other people if we'd wanted to. Sometimes in large social gathering I 'go quiet' and I cannot think of a single thing to say. I suppose saying too little is better than saying too much. At least people think you are enigmatic and mysterious. 

It was a formal four course meal, which took forever. I'd actually eaten some lunch at my normal time, because I would have been grumpy if I hadn't eaten until 3pm. It was like being at a wedding. And there was a quiz! Well, it turned out only to be a Before They Were Famous collection of photos we were supposed to identify. I don't know why I find large social groups so intimidating. It's made worse at work because I'm trying to pretend I'm a 'normal person'. And once again there were disparaging comments about my choice of diet. One colleague took a look at my risotto and said: 'I'm glad I'm not a vegetarian...' To which, I could not formulate a reply. I thought everyone had got over people not eating meet by now. 

There was a raffle - and I won a £25 John Lewis/Waitrose voucher, which was unexpected. I made my excuses and left the party early. I had the kids coming over, who I hadn't seen for ages, so I couldn't have stayed even if I'd wanted to. Judging from the pictures on Facebook there was drinking and cavorting, but I'm afraid for the most part the people I work with are not the people with which I wish to drink and cavort. I'm aware all of this marks me out as a 'no fun' person. I don't want to be this way. I want to be fun. And to eat my food without people making judgements. Is that really too much to ask? The problem is, there's nothing more desperate and doomed to failure than someone trying to be 'more fun'.

Deadlands - Episode 2

In some ways this was an improvement over last week - at least I wasn't ill. On the other hand, we had a full house of players, which confirmed that seven is too many. Plus one player was sat with his rulebook open making lots of rules-based suggestions. This would have annoyed me, but the Marshall took it well. Mind you, when I run a session I place the emphasis on story rather than game, but your mileage may vary. I felt less sad about the friendship I've lost. And it was nice to be surrounded by people I like, even if there were so many of them that I didn't manage to do much. Or that when I did have my big scene of investigation an alternative conversation broke out. I tried to draw everyone back into the action, but it wasn't my place to do so as I wasn't running the game.

I've been analysing the BBFC's summary of The Hobbit trying to decide whether it is suitable for my nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. Actually, that would be a better situation than the one in which I've found myself. I've told them I will take them, an idea about which they are 'over the moon', though Youngest Child has said we'll need to 'discuss strategies for hiding his face if he gets scared'. Each know the story well - and know everything works out in the end - but I made promises before learning it was a 12A. How upsetting will it be when 'In one battle there is reference to a dwarf king being beheaded, with sight of a head being held by an orc before it is thrown to the ground. It is neither bloody nor gory.'? And how much difference will the fantastical nature of the setting make? Will that make it less scary?
This was a successful lesson. I find the 10am-3.30pm Saturday sessions usually go better than the evening classes. When I'm teaching people on a Monday evening, for example, they have been at work all day. Coming into the classroom on a Saturday is a little holiday from everyday life. As the name suggests there was a lot to cover, but we made it, finishing exactly on time. We went fast enough to cover everything, but we didn't lose anybody. To achieve this, towards the end of the session I explained and demonstrated without giving the students a chance to practise. This was reflected in the feedback forms, one person said that the course would be improved if there was a 'little more time to experiment' and another said, 'Need more time to play with examples but appreciate it is a lot to get across in one day.' I think I'll cut down the section on promoting your website next time, to give students more time to practise. Other comments included 'enjoyed this course', 'I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the day. The cafe was lovely too', 'We got through masses of information in one day! Well done Stuart - as mixed ability in class,' and my favourite 'Nice teacher'. It was the last class of term, so it was good to end on a high.

I'm feeling exhausted now - and it rather feels as if I've wasted the evening as a result. I'll regret wasting this time later, but I just haven't felt able to do much. I've read a bit, watched an epsiode of Bergerac, prepared an Call of Cthulhu adventure for tomorrow and listened to the Howard Shore special of Classic FM's Saturday Night at the Movies while having a light doze. Actually, written down, it doesn't look too bad. There's just a feeling of comedown after you've been teaching eight students to come home to an empty house. No doubt I'll feel better tomorrow, as I should be seeing four friends at different times throughout the day.
How do people without children cope with the sheer emptiness of life? Maybe it is people who have had children, but then no longer have them albeit temporarily, that feel this way. I guess I managed before I had them. Weird. I guess people have work and TV to anaesthetise themselves? Is that why people drink so much? The above classes went OK. The Web Design one had a weird atmosphere. Maybe it just wasn't a good combination of people. There was a hint of end-of-term hysteria. The banter between students, which was on the surface was good natured, had me wondering about what was going on beneath the surface. It started with a discussion about the temperature, how one student lived in a drafty Victorian house, so was cold, and how another had walked to the class with her coat open as she didn't want to get sweaty, but who was now feeling hot. If you have more than a couple of people in the same room you're never going to get the temperature right for everyone. It was as if they were clashing, but under thick veneers of politeness. That's one class that I will not miss. I was worried I wouldn't have enough material, but I'd forgotten we hadn't finished last week's lesson. I had to skip stuff in the end, such as colour theory and future learning, but this was OK because the students can get this from the handouts.

The Internet and Social Networking class was much more chilled. We were looking at Gmail, but also took in Paypal. One chap said he hadn't known about double clicking before joining my class. Another student bought me a bottle of wine to say thank you. One student vented her frustration with Google for trimming content in Gmail. I hadn't even noticed this happening - I pay attention to the name at the top, rather than any signature at the bottom. Sometimes teaching email hasn't been easy, but by focusing on just one type it seemed to work better. Once back in Epsom I got my hair cut. Part of me wishes I never had to have it cut, but I do think it looks neater now. I'm in the library at the moment, because I'm putting off going home to an empty house. It's so weird not having children's needs to deal with. I mean, I liked being able to sleep through the night without interruption, but still... I need to check my notes for tomorrow's Web Design class. I've taught it before, but it pays to revise before each session. Sometimes technology has moved on so you have to make updates, at other times you just have better ideas of how to teach the material. I am feeling cheered by the response I got from a post on Facebook regarding how not to feel sad. It looks like I'm going to see lots of people on Sunday, which will be great.

The Artist...

I've just got back from seeing The Artist. I hadn't seen a film at the cinema since Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, just before Christmas. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the whole experience. The rest of the screen was filled with elders, who provided an occasional commentary during the film. This was acceptable because a) I'm sure it was lack of hearing rather than thoughtlessness that led to their loudness and b) it was a silent film, so it wasn't as if I was missing any crucial dialogue.

I felt as if I'd had my money's worth just by watching the trailer to The Hobbit. God, I love that dwarvish song. While I've grown to appreciate the importance of Tolkien's songs in the books, none has ever affected me quite as strongly as this. Of course, the trailer taps into my love of The Lord of the Rings too, especially with the musical motif that accompanies the appearance of Gollum. When it comes to The Hobbit, I wish they'd make two movies instead of one, oh, I see...  

And, I know this is wrong, but part of me is thinking of taking the children to see The Phantom Menace in 3D. I don't want to encourage films to be remade in 3D and frankly George Lucas has already had enough of my cash, on the other hand, the kids have never had the chance to see a Star Wars film at the cinema. And they've seen Episodes IV-VI, but not the prequels. This is partly because I don't own them. They have played the Lego Star Wars games though, so they are curious to find out what the films are like. And at eight and six they are more easily pleased, as they don't have the weight of expectation our generation has.

The Artist itself was good. It was strange watching a silent black and white film at the cinema. It was also in a strange aspect ratio, which I can only presume is authentic for the era. I'm interested in learning how to lipread, so I treated this as a dry run. Sometimes I was able to understand what people were saying, but not all the time. There is something comforting about a black and white film, which is why I felt a little drowsy, though I was engaged in the film. I love that era. Normally, I'm ethically opposed to cars, but the vehicles from that time are so cool. I'm not sure I'm ready for a whole slew of silent black and white films, but this one was very enjoyable.

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