When I’m not too snowed under with work or the every day humdrum of daily life, it’s good to find a few minutes here and there to actually, you know, enjoy myself a little. Being a writer, a lot of that free time is naturally eaten up with either reading or writing, but there are still a few other interests I manage to squeeze in from time to time. This post is a celebration of those things. Think of it as a little window into my heart and all the myriad nonsense that makes me tick.
I play the piano. I’ve never been particularly good at playing it mind you, partially because I’ve always had trouble reading sheet music, but I get by. I’ve been writing my own songs for this thing since I was old enough to realise what I was doing. In fact, at one point I got so involved in song writing I was seriously debating whether I should devote my career to music as a full-time profession. Obviously, I chose to stick with writing instead, but in a parallel universe somewhere I like to think there’s another me out there tickling the ivories for a living. It’s a nice thought.
Swimming is the perfect sport. Low-impact (meaning it doesn’t tire you out too much) and solitary (meaning I get to do it as and when I please). I’ve never been much of a team sport kind of guy, mostly because the idea of others seeing me when I’m all sweaty and out of breath has never sat well with me. Swimming, though, is perfect. Not only does the water ensure you stay sweat free at all times but it’s one of those sports where you don’t have to think. You can just switch off your mind, set yourself a target and then go. There’s a wonderful relaxation to be had in that.
God bless Jamie Oliver — the man who taught me to cook! I never used to be much of what you might call a food connoisseur while growing up, my mother (God bless her) even less so. It was only when I got to university and I had to fend for myself for the first time that I realised I should probably learn the difference between a pot and a pan if I wanted to get by in life and not subsist for the next three years on a diet made up of 90% saturated fat.
These days I try to cook one or two big meals a week and get by the rest of the time on leftovers. I think I’m getting better too. Sure, so I tend to be a bit over ambitious in my ideas and I’m not exactly the neatest of cooks but I haven’t poisoned anyone yet and that’s the main thing!
4. Disney Pixar
If Pixar was a woman, I would be married to her. Seriously. I am utterly in love with what this company can do on such a consistent basis. Namely: reduce a grown man to tears, without fail, every single time they release a film. Up had me sobbing within its opening 10 minutes. Toy Story 3 had me so choked up I wanted to go out and buy some toys just so I could never abandon them and the less said about Monster Inc’s heart wrenching (if slightly schmultzy) end the better. I’ve no idea how they’ve managed to stay so fresh over the years but I can’t think of any other film studio with as much heart, imagination and honesty as this American gem.
Seriously, how can you not love this guy?
True, the company has made one or two missteps over the years (*cough* Bug’s Life */cough*), but it’s easy to forgive these, especially when compared with what their rivals are producing. When treating its viewers as intelligent human beings instead of simple market commodities, there is NO ONE even close to touching Pixar.
And they aren’t the only company I’m loyal to…
Now I know that the idea of being loyal to a company is probably a strange one for any younger people out there. I mean, God knows these companies aren’t loyal to me. But trust me if you grew up during the 1980’s you’d understand where I’m coming from. Back in the days of the 16-bit wars, you were either a worthy fan of Nintendo or you were one of those evil blood-sucking minions of Sega. Being neither was heavily frowned upon. Being both was considered social suicide. Well, Nintendo was my choice and its one I’ve stuck with solidly over the years. Sure, I might have disagreed with many of the company’s decisions over the years. Let’s face it, the N64’s lack of CD drive was a huge misstep which cost them the loyalty of Square Enix, and the Gamecube’s lack of online playability and third party support almost wiped out their marketability for selling hardware.
Yoshi's Island: my favourite game of all time
But no matter how often they fail as a company, I will always keep coming back to Nintendo for more. Because, in a weird way, my love for Nintendo has actually altered my perception of what makes a good game. Thanks to the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda, platform games are now hardwired in my brain as being the quintessential core of what a game should be. FPS’s? Bluh, horrible twitch reaction gaming. RTS’s? Pure number crunching. For me, the timing and pattern memorization required to beat a good platform game will always be my priority when looking for a new franchise to buy into.
Well that and…
Admitting you like Pokemon these days is kinda like admitting you like porn. I mean, sure, a lot of people watch it. We all know that. But come on – have some decency. Leave it at home behind closed doors not where everyone can see it! Whip out your DS in public and you’ll be lucky if a raised eyebrow is the only reaction you get. After all, it’s a game for kids right, not adults?
Wrong. Pokemon rocks. It’s that ever elusive sort of game: one that’s easy to pick up and learn the basics of but almost impossible to master. There is a depth to it that belies its cutesy surface detail, one which I am still trying to master after five generations of games and probably 1000’s of hours of playing time. That’s a hell of a lot of monster catching.
7. TV Space Opera
Yeah, sure it’s cheesy and SF aficionados will complain that a lot of it isn’t really science fiction but gosh darn it, these shows are so awesome with their big ships and their shooty lasers and the alien things with the big eyes and pew pew! God I loved being a kid.
But in all seriousness, shows like Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek were the first to open my eyes up to the wonders of the universe. Sure there are lots of shows with war or exploration in them but BSG and Star Trek showed us these things… in space! It’s that sense of vastness and of the unlimited epic that makes space opera so timeless.
What is happening in this picture? Space opera. That's what.
Among my favourites are things like Firefly (one of the best TV shows of all time), Babylon 5 (a show which I watched for the first time last year from beginning to end in a marathon viewing session that lasted almost a whole week) , Star Trek (my youth encapsulated in one show), Battlestar Galactica (one of the best shows ever… until the fourth series ruined it) and Doctor Who (pure insanity in a box) among others.
These series were among the first to open my mind up to the possibilities of there being more to the universe than what we can see or imagine. They helped to shape my impressionable young mind into one that always asked questions. They wowed me and they angered me. They reduced me to tears and made me punch the air with elation. Their sweeping story arcs took in the fates of whole galaxies. They made me think big. And I will always love them for it.
8. A Song of Ice and Fire
This, right here, is probably the closest thing to an obsession that I have at the moment. It’s seriously unhealthy the amount of time I spend thinking about the politics and history of this entirely fictional world. Kudos to George R. R. Martin that he’s managed to create something so believable and so likeable (and at the same time detestable) that I don’t just keep coming back for more, I never leave it in the first place, but damnit I don’t think this level of geekery is healthy. Too bad, because this series is like pure storytelling gold and if I can ever produce something even one tenth as good as this, I will die a happy, happy man.
I still haven’t watched the HBO show yet, mostly because I don’t want my love and enjoyment of the books to be ruined by other people’s creative interpretations of them (as happened for me with the Harry Potter films) but literally everything else released in this universe is either already mine or shortly will be. Yeah, I’m that crazy about it.
I’ve already explained the whys and wherefores of this one in some detail. So I’ll just leave this by saying that Warhammer was a big part of my teenage years and there’s still a part of me that loves it for the rich history of its shared universe, the comaraderie that comes with playing with others and the insane over-the-topness of the models themselves.
10. West Bromwich Albion
I’m a guy and I’m from England, so naturally I support a football team. And West Bromwich Albion is it. Now, I know a lot of you have probably never heard of this team before; they aren’t exactly the most famous team in England (despite being five times winners of the FA cup) but hey, I’m not a glory hunter who only chooses my team because they play nice football. Hell no. We like our victories to be earned, thank you very much.
In fact, if you’ve been paying close attention to this blog you might have noticed a pattern in my interests. I have what you might call a natural affinity for supporting the underdog. For example, most people like Playstation so I like Nintendo. Most people hate Pokemon so I love it. Most teenagers choose to learn guitar, shop in Tesco’s and own Apple products, so I learnt piano shopped in Sainsbury’s and shunned anything Apple-related with a big metaphorical stick. And most people support Manchester United or Chelsea. And I don’t.
And talking of which, there is one underdog which I love more than any other…
Bonus: Great Britain
Yeah, sorry to say that I am an unashamed patriot at heart. Not only that but I’m a (Boo! Hiss!) monarchist to boot. I used to joke that I was born about 100 years too late. That the perfect time for me would have been at the height of the British Empire when everyone was overly romantic and still went into battle waving a sabre over their heads and shouting “For the king!” as they boldly charged into cannon fire. I’m something of an idealist like that.
Alas, it’s not meant to be but a man can still dream and still get passionately upset when his beloved union acts in a stupid way or threatens to dissolve completely. Because Britain is my team. The underdog of the world. And you can’t back out on a committment like that.