Bored With Board Games…?

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The imposed lockdown that most of us have had to endure has been a curious part of 2020. It has encouraged people (and sometimes forced them) to leave their comfort zones and to think outside the box for a while. I mentioned before that I have sat down in front of many a jigsaw over the last few months, but as a family we have also been playing more games during our extended time at home.

Recently I have been playing a lot of the strategy board game Ticket to Ride (although the version I am playing is on the Playstation 4). It’s a game I didn’t even know about until The Fianceé© introduced me to it earlier this year. It’s all about trains and connecting destinations across the country (or, in some cases, continent)… but it’s really much more fun and involving than I have made it sound there.

The original version uses the USA template, but the guys over at Days of Wonder soon realised the potential and have since spewed out a bunch of different expansions and stand-alone sets – from France to Japan and a lot of places in between. There’s a UK edition, but there’s no Scotland specific map…

…so I got it into my head that I should make my own.

And just because I was in that frame of mind, a couple of days ago I decided that I could reinvigorate the classic game of Monopoly a little by renaming the properties on the board, and writing my own (better) ‘Chance’ and ‘Community Chest’ cards, so that the whole experience feels more personal.

Both of these are currently works-in-progress, so I’d better get back to it before my furlough finishes.

The Outsider – Review…

51qwZb3c42L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently finished reading Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider, published in 2013. It was a great insight into a fiery and fascinating character – truly one of the biggest names in tennis in the seventies and eighties.

I started watching the sport when his career was winding down, but I still caught a lot of his matches before he hung up the sneakers for good. Even as a kid who had never picked up a racket at that time, I understood his passion for the game and I admired his full-throated desire to win at all costs. Like him or not, he really was an inspirational player.

True to his image Connors had a lot to say about a lot of people – from his ill-fated relationship with Chris Evert, to his respect for Bjorn Borg. Apart from some light-hearted jabs there was little vitriol – even for John McEnroe, a player he famously butted heads with constantly throughout their professional playing careers. There is also a heartfelt chapter towards the end about his friend and fellow player Vitas Gerulaitis, who tragically died at the too-young age of forty.

Even now, Connors has much love for the game, but what really comes across in his words is how close he was to both his mother and grandmother, both of whom had passed on when this biography was written.

I don’t read many biographies, but this is well-worth a read if you enjoy the sport, and if you appreciate the insight of someone who was at the top of the mountain for longer than most.

Skeleton Crew #4 – Cain Rose Up…

13440Word count – 1,900

Cain Rose Up is a very brief story about a school shooting, written in the late sixties – before school shootings, unfortunately, became far too commonplace in the real world. This would likely be a controversial story in these sensitive times, and King (who has mellowed somewhat in recent years) probably wouldn’t write this in 2020.

Curt is a troubled college student who decides to snipe his way out of his funk from his dorm room… and that’s all there is to it. As short as this piece is, I certainly can’t say that that it outstays its welcome.

Cain Rose Up is very brutal in its stripped-down nature. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it wouldn’t be any better if it did. You don’t get a happy ending here, and that is why it works.

Recommended ⇑

Perhaps I ought to chalk it…

Willie-Thorne-dead-How-did-Willie-Thorne-die-1296963Today would have been my grandad’s 91st birthday. Like a lot of guys of his generation, he didn’t like to celebrate it, but now that he is gone it’s a day I always recognise, and I try to take the time to remember the good times that we shared.

Today is also the day that snooker legend Willie Thorne died. He was 66 years old.

It’s not a name that will mean anything to a lot of people but as a long-time snooker fan, I found myself very saddened by his departure this morning. I am old enough to have watched him while he was still an active player, but too young to have seen him in his heyday. Coincidentally, snooker was a sport that I always enjoyed watching with my grandad. In fact, Willie Thorne was one of his favourites.

Willie Thorne honed his craft in the eighties – in an era when snooker was exploding in the mainstream, and there were a lot of larger-than-life personalities in the game, from Jimmy White to Dennis Taylor to Alex Higgins, and many others. Chas & Dave even reached the UK Top Ten with their song, Snooker Loopy in 1986 – that’s how big the game was in those days.

Although he would not be in the conversation as one of the sport’s all-time greats, with his polished head and thick moustache Willie Thorne was certainly one of snooker’s biggest and most recognisable characters, and he will surely be missed.

Now old Willie Thorne, his hair’s all gone, and his mates all take the rise
His opponent said, “cover up his head cos it’s shining in my eyes”
When the light shines down, on his bare crown
It’s a cert he’s gonna walk it
It’s just not fair, giving off that glare
“Perhaps I ought to chalk it”

Skeleton Crew #3 – The Monkey…

13440Word count – 15,000

The Monkey is a fairly chunky short story about one of those old spooky looking mechanical monkeys with the cymbals, and how this particular one has a tendency to reappear in protagonist Hal’s life.

The Monkey is a basic horror story that has been stretched almost to the point where it is in danger of really losing me. I think King could have excised half of the words here and been left with a better story as a result.

Having said that, ultimately there is something worthwhile reading in here. I just wish that there was a little less fat in between all the good stuff. I’m just out of the blocks, but this the weakest entry I have read in Skeleton Crew thus far.

Recommended ⇑

The Last Dance – Review…

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I don’t get to play it or watch it these days, but I have always appreciated basketball, and the skill and energy that the game takes to play at the highest level.

For a couple of years, I played for my school as a teenager in Sydney. We were pretty good. I played centre, and was usually the leading scorer on the team. I enjoyed it immensely, but I never took it any further than that.

A few years later – as the Dream Team were taking the Barcelona Olympics by storm in 1992 – I got into watching the NBA on TV. For whatever reason, I gravitated towards the Utah Jazz, and my favourite player was their power forward, Karl Malone. But as the nineties tailed off, so too did my interest in following the sport in any depth.

Recently I watched The Last Dance on Netflix, a ten part documentary focusing on the 1997/98 NBA season of the Chicago Bulls. It tickled my nostalgia bone and reminded me why the game is so exciting to watch, especially when Michael Jordan has his hands on the ball.

Because as much as the documentary is about the whole cast of characters, it’s really primarily about Jordan’s rise to fame in the eighties and subsequent ascent to super stardom in the nineties. And there’s nothing wrong with that – the guy had a charmed career.

The narrative flips back and forth through Jordan’s timeline and intersperses it with features about the other important characters in the story – Pippin, Rodman, and coach Phil Jackson, amongst others. And it’s all done with great aplomb too.

So if you want a trip down memory lane, and go back to watch the circumstances surrounding the Bulls’ ‘repeat threepeat’, this is really as good as it gets. For fans of the sport, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And even if you don’t like basketball, it’s still an interesting watch, if only to appreciate the genius, determination, and dedication of one of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever seen.

What I’ve Done This Month #May…

I finished an 1,800 word dark short story this month that I have titled The Cave. It took longer than it should have (this was one of the pieces I had challenged myself to write by Christmas 2019), but as it turned out, a few days of attention and concentration was all that it really needed.

I also started and completed three jigsaws during May, to add to the two others I did in April, which makes five furlough puzzles… probably more than I’ve done since I was a child. I know, it’s nerdy, but lockdown brings out the geek in all of us. The most surprising thing of all is that every one of those 4,500 pieces was right where they should have been.

Over the last week or so I have bought a shitload of paper, poly pockets, ink, and binders, so that I can finally finish printing and storing all of my writing since I started keeping (proper) records twenty-five years ago. It’s a very long process, but it will be worth it. It’s just another safeguard in case my laptop decides to go belly up… which is surely just around the corner.

I have finished Stephen King’s novel, Joyland. Very good, and yet another example (if one was needed) that the guy can write more than just monsters and spooky things that go bump in the night. To be honest, it’s been a while since he hung out in the darkness and tried to scare us. I’ve started a sci-fi novel by Gregory Benford called Cosm, which for one reason or another I have owned for the best part of two decades. It’s proving to be very hard going, but all I’ve got right now is time, right?

Guys – remember your social distancing…

Skeleton Crew #2 – Here There Be Tygers…

13440Word count – 1,500

Here They Be Tygers is one of the earliest Stephen King stories that is available for the public at large – having been written when King was a teenager – and it’s also one of the shortest.

Charles is a child in class and he needs to go to the toilet. When he arrives at the bathroom, there is a tiger sitting on the foor. Because, of course there is.

There’s not much to this, but at this length that is expected. Here There Be Tygers is about one thing – one jolt – and it is laser focused on delivering that one thing. Maybe this was polished from it’s original state to how it appears in this collection – maybe not – but it’s easy to believe this was written by a teenage King.

Recommended ⇑

Good Golly…

ca-times.brightspotcdn.comThis morning, while listening to an entirely unrelated podcast, I found out that Little Richard was dead. I went to Google and sure enough, he died on the 9th of May at the age of 87. The coronavirus has been such a distraction that the death of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest attractions completely passed me by for two weeks.

Along with Elvis, Chuck Berry, and a little later on, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard was one of the founding fathers of what really was – in some capacity – the beginning of modern music. I grew up on that music. Those guys influenced everyone and everything, and without them the landscape woud be a whole lot different. You don’t have to like it, but you have to respect the reach those guys had.

It’s a sad loss for the musical world, and unfortunately one that took me a while to realise.

Rest in peace, Richard. You will be sadly missed.

Skeleton Crew #1 – The Mist…

13440Word count – 50,500

All right, let’s get this out of the way up front: The Mist is not a short story. In fact, it strays into novel length, albeit a thin one with a singular thread. But I have included it here because it is the first story in Skeleton Crew.

A dense and strange mist creeps towards a small town and strands a group of people in a supermarket, after which it soon becomes clear that there are creatures in the gloom waiting to strike. For a long time we don’t know why they are there, but towards the end of the story King does throw us a bone. It’s a satisfactory reason, even if it is not really required to enjoy what’s here.

The Mist is a wholly enjoyable tale, and a good ol’ proper horror story from King as well. It’s a very good start for this second collection of stories, and a high bar is set early.

Recommended ⇑