The Quidditch Global Games… Wait, what?

There’s a joke circulating on the internet that goes something like this:

Despite the darkening tone of the books, there’s no denying the appeal of the magical world depicted by J.K. Rowling, but it’s nonetheless surprising that one of the few things to leave the books and arrive in the Muggle world, along with Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, is Quidditch.

A GB player attempts to defend the goal from another determined US attack.

A GB player attempts to defend the goal from another determined US attack.

Ok, the admissions: Firstly, clearly, no one is flying here. None of the balls in play are moving of their own accord. And the Golden Snitch is not a tiny magical metal marvel, it’s…well, see for yourself:

He's the Snitch. To score, you have to grab what's dangling from his shorts.

He’s the Snitch. To score, you have to grab what’s dangling from his shorts.

But there are more similarities with the written game of Quidditch than differences. All players have to be on broomsticks, making catching the thrown Quaffle (here substituted by a Volleyball) that much harder. The Beaters may not have bats, but they throw the Bludgers (gym balls) at opposing players, and if you’re hit, you have to drop the Quaffle (if you’re carrying it) and run back to touch your own goalposts before returning to play. And there are three goalposts at each end of the field of play, two low hoops on either side of a higher central hoop.

This shot of Team GB leaping into action at the start of the game shows the three goals nicely. Also the ACE team strip!

This shot of Team GB leaping into action at the start of the game shows the three goals nicely. Also the ACE team strip!

Like the books say, Quidditch is a fast and furious game. There were no injuries in the UK/US match we watched, but the game preceding it was stopped twice for injured players to be helped off the pitch.

What astonished me most was that teams had travelled from distant countries to compete here in BC for the Global Games (sadly, and for whatever reason, not The Quidditch World Cup). There was a team from Australia, for pete’s sake! Each team was enthusiastic and dedicated, and played hard, though it’s hard to deny that the UK were outclassed by reigning champions USA, as they went down 150 to…. zero! (In this game, capturing the snitch only awards 30 points.)

It made a good spectator sport, and I was sorry we only had time to watch one and a half games. There was a good crowd, made up of supporters from around the world, and there seems to be a good chance that Quidditch will stick around as a sport, though whether it will make the jump from amateur University teams to the Pro Leagues is anyone’s guess…

Two beaters...er...tussle over the Bludger. Eventually a UK Beater tapped the US player with the other Bludger and released his team mate.

Two beaters…er…tussle over the Bludger. Eventually a UK Beater tapped the US player with the other Bludger and released his team mate.

The UK team manager/coach had the right outfit, the exuberance and the team spirit. Possibly he should have studied the tactics as well....

The UK team manager/coach had the right outfit, the exuberance and the team spirit. Possibly he should have studied the tactics as well….

Keeping astride the broomstick may be authentic, it may be part of the rules, but it isn't graceful...

Keeping astride the broomstick may be authentic, it may be part of the rules, but it isn’t graceful…

For more information on playing Quidditch in the real world, check out www.usquidditch.org

 

 

A week in reading

Sometimes reading feels like famine or feast. I go through periods of brilliant books, then can’t find a damn thing to read anywhere (and when you consider that I work in a library…)

This last week has been a feast period. I started with two fun Star Wars books, downloaded a gripping audio book and found a bargain e-book written by a friend. So let’s start with that one.

Jane Turley is an English writer who I have come to know through G+. She’s cheerful and friendly and encouraging, and has often mentioned that she’s been working on her novel. That novel is “The Changing Room“, and she posted it online this last week. I downloaded a copy, keen to see what she’d produced, expecting – hoping – to enjoy it.

What I didn’t expect was to be totally swept away by it. The book is written from the point of view of Sandy, a wife and mum who is a great salesperson. She doesn’t love her job at the furniture store, but she likes people, and her work helps support her husband’s building company in the tough times of recession. During the course of the novel, Sandy moves from her sales job at the store to a more flexible one working from home, then finds a surprising extra source of income when a friend reveals she runs a sex chat phone service.

Throughout all this Sandy is caring for her mother, who is sliding deeper and deeper into Alzheimer’s. Sandy wants to put off taking her mother into care, but it has to happen eventually, for her own safety as much as for Sandy’s sanity.

I won’t detail everything that happens in the book, but suffice to say, I read it in two sittings. Sandy’s life is busy, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s unexpected and familiar at the same time. More than anything, this book feels REAL. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

The two Star Wars books I read this week were “Allegiance” and “Choices of One” by Timothy Zahn. Both these books are now available under the “Star Wars – Legends” banner, since Disney decided all books produced after “Return of the Jedi” were non-canon. HERESY! Ahem.

I thought I had read both these books before, but I was delighted to discover that I had made a silly mistake. “Allegiance” is the first of the two, and I had only read the second book. When I picked up “Allegiance” last time, I read the blurb and thought it sounded familiar, so I assumed I’d read it. Here’s why:

The first book deals with Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand. She’s got a mission to fulfill. A group of stormtroopers, disgusted with some Xeno-cleansing they have been ordered to take part in, accidentally kill a political officer and go on the run, fortuitously stealing a fully-equipped and disguised ship. They elect to continue as rogue stormtroopers, serving their image of the Empire, as a just bastion of stability and order. Meanwhile, three very familiar rebels are also on a mission – Han, Luke and Leia (and Chewie!) – that takes them into the same area of space.

What follows is a clever dance. Zahn introduced the character of Mara Jade in the first post ROTJ book “Heir to the Empire” and showed us then that she had not met Luke Skywalker previously, though she knew of him and hated him for killing the Emperor. By writing these prequels, Zahn risked contradicting his own work, so he has managed to manipulate the characters and events so that the stormtroopers work with both rebels and Jade, but those two groups never communicate directly with one another.

It’s not world-changing stuff, and it’s really most fun if you’re a fan of Zahn’s previous work and want to see Mara in her prime and Luke as a know-nothing proto-jedi. Read them in order, and be surprised at how you can come to admire a group of stormtroopers.

The audio book I’ve been enjoying this week is “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (Or JK Rowling, as he’s also known….). Mrs Dim and I both enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, finding it mildly less grim than “The Casual Vacancy”, and “The Silkworm” is in much the same vein. Of course, since solving the high-profile Lula Landry murder, Cormoran Strike and Robin are on a much better financial footing, and Cormoran himself has finally found a new place to live, so he’s not sleeping in the office any more.

The book is slower to start, lingering more on the details of Robin and Strike’s lives, but I was perfectly happy with that. Rowling didn’t go into a great deal of detail on her principal characters in the first book, and I was interested in how things had gone for them in the intervening time. There’s still plenty to be told – mention is made several times during the book of the traumatic events that made Robin drop out of her course at university, but unless I missed something, we never found out exactly what it was. Her fiance does express surprise that she wants to become an investigator herself “after what happened”, so there’s a clue there, maybe…

I found myself making excuses to plug my headphones in so I could listen to the story, and inevitably got cross with myself after finishing it. What am I going to listen to now? I enjoyed it so much, i found it hard to understand the negative reviews it garnered on Amazon. Not many, certainly, but I think most were still looking for another Harry Potter book.

They make you swear, they really do….

Actually, that’s not true. In the Citizenship Oath, you have the option to swear OR affirm.

WP_003747

It wasn’t that long ago that I shared this post about sitting our citizenship exam, and we began the wait for the Oath ceremony. Certainly the exam was the more nerve-wracking of the two – though there were several dire warnings about what could happen if you failed to repeat the oath, or didn’t produce the required documents.

The main difference this time was taking the entire boatload of weasels along. Only Eldest Weasel was actually required to make the oath, the other two being below the age of fourteen, but we made this emigration as a unit, and we signed in as a unit too. They seated us together, a row of five seats on the right hand side of the same room we took our exam in. The clerk explained what would happen when Judge Nguyen (pronounced “Wen”) took her seat and began proceedings. The judge was a calm, smiling presence, and took the opportunity to tell us about her own history – nine escape attempts from her home country when she was only a little girl. At least six trips to “Re-education camps” before the successful escape which led to a refugee camp and finally Canada. Mrs Dim and I exchanged glances. Suddenly the various stresses and panics we’d suffered in the run up to our own arrival here seemed very, very minor.

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

We were all asked to state our full names in loud clear voices, one at a time. I was happy to note that even Tiniest Weasel had no trouble with this, and then we were reciting the Oath in English and French. After that it was a simple matter of lining up to receive our certificates and take photos with the judge.

DSCN0837After that it was much like the day we took our exam – with a beautiful day outside and no one having to really be anywhere for a while, we walked the seawall all the way up to Milestones on English Bay. Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that’s the first restaurant we visited after arriving in Canada. It’s just round the corner from the apartment we rented during our first month, and we’ve celebrated at least one arrival anniversary there. Since we missed the five year anniversary meal out, this seemed like a great opportunity for a double celebration.

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver.....

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver…..

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Every time I think “Ok, that’s it, now we just start living…” another big moment pops up. Is there more to come after gaining citizenship? Now we have to apply for passports and things, and I already miss the security of carrying my Permanent Resident Card with me. But I can vote now! I get to take an active interest in the things going on around me, because I have a voice and I am going to use it. Local, Provincial or Federal, I will get out there and use my vote!

Love in a Time of Zombies – Vagabond Alley Productions

The flyer for the show - you can still get tickets!

The flyer for the show – you can still get tickets!

On Saturday I drove Mrs Dim down to Seattle. For the first time in years, a play of mine was being produced within driving distance, and I was determined to see it in person. Despite having over eighty scripts available, and those plays being bought and produced somewhere in the world every month, it’s rare to get a chance to see a production.

Susan (D'Arcy Harrison) nearly brains Brian (Jason Sharp) as he comes home from foraging.

Susan (D’Arcy Harrison) nearly brains Brian (Jason Sharp) as he comes home from foraging.

D’Arcy Harrison, the Producer and one of the actors in the show, had been in touch a number of times to check details. Since the script was very British, there had to be a number of adaptations for the North American setting D’Arcy planned to use. I was keen to see how this turned out. Mrs Dim was keen to spend a night in a hotel and get the chance to visit Seattle.

When we were checked into our hotel and were dressed for Seattle nightlife, Mrs Dim and I met a couple of friends in a place opposite the venue. We shared a great meal and a lot of talk – one of the friends was at school with me, and his wife is great fun and a Seattle native. They came to the show with us, and we took seats in the front row.

sexymessyheart

The performance space is downstairs, provided by Pocket Theater. It was black walls and bare lighting bar, with the simple set only separated from the audience by a couple of feet – no raised stage. The whole thing felt very intimate. There looked to be seating for about forty people, and the seats were already half full. The director, Amelia Meckler, came over to shake hands and say hello. She was very excited and a little nervous, which made two of us.

It’s been a few years since I wrote the script, and I haven’t re-read it recently, so I was interested to see how much I would remember, and whether the little changes that had been made would stand out for me. But the lights went down, and the soundtrack started up, and I forgot all about comparing the script with the show. The soundtrack was a mish-mash of radio broadcasts showing the spread of the Zombie Apocalypse. Not something I’d written, but a device concocted by VAP, and it worked brilliantly. The mood was set, and when a hand came through the blinds of the window at the back of the set, the audience was hooked.

Brian isn't as pleased as Susan when a handsome and apparently NOT dead visitor (Robert Hankins) comes to call.

Brian isn’t as pleased as Susan when a handsome and apparently NOT dead visitor (Robert Hankins) comes to call.

VAP used a simple set, just the sofa, a suspended window, a table and chairs and a stairway behind a curtain. The entrance to the house was a blocked off door, but the door wasn’t there – just the heavy chest that blocked it. Everything was neat and spare and worked very well. Jason Sharp opened the play as Brian, entering after another day’s hard foraging and fending off zombies, and he was welcomed home by D’Arcy Harrison as his terrified wife, convinced he’s either a zombie or a hostile survivor.

The dialogue flowed brilliantly, with the pair communicating as much through their expressions and body language as with their words. They were clearly a long-married couple with many unresolved issues. Those issues were already a problem before the handsome stranger, Harry (played wonderfully by Robert Hankins) arrives and pushes things over the top.

It was a terrific evening. The show was captivating, and came with the bonus of enthralling Mrs Dim. She has never seen a play of mine that I wasn’t acting in. It’s one thing to say to people “My husband is a playwright.” and to see the royalties come in from time to time, but it’s quite another to see people cheering an applauding a production that he wrote, to hear from the actors how much they loved the script, how much fun they had.

For me, it was what I imagine authors feel when they see their novels in the bookstore. This is what my scripts are for. Although I write them, they aren’t complete until they are performed, and it’s the actors and directors who bring the words to life. For that, I will be forever grateful to them.

The show is still running, playing on the 14th, 21st and 28th of June at 2220 NW Market Street, Seattle. See the rave press reviews here: 

http://www.dramainthehood.net/2014/06/love-time-zombies/

http://www.heedthehedonist.com/this-one-act-zombie-apocalyptic-romance-not-to-miss

http://www.thehorrorhoneys.com/2014/06/love-undead-style.html

For more information, check out Vagabond Alley Productions or see the online trailer.

The Ultimate Question

Damian Trasler:

Delighted to appear on Stuart’s blog today!

Originally posted on beewaxing:

Why?(To which the answer is not  42)

Some visitors to Damian Trasler’s blog have arrived there as a result of existential searches.  Damian found the following inbound search terms in the blog’s data log:-

lazy bee scripts/why
why/lazy bee scripts

I have no idea whether or not the searcher (I assume this was one person, although the first search term cropped-up twice) found the answer, not least because I’m not sure what the question means.  It could be

Why should I buy something from Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why is there a company called Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why did Damian Trasler choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher? Orpossibly
Why should I choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher?

The answer to the first one is simple: we’re offering something that really appeals to you at a price you can afford.  Go ahead and buy it.  (Go…

View original 232 more words

A perfectly useless hobby.

What are you supposed to do as a hobby when your real job is something other people do as a hobby?

When I was a kid, one of the things I wanted to do was work in the movies. Specifically, I wanted to work in Special Effects. Back in those days, that meant modelmaking, creating real props, and, occasionally, blowing stuff up.

When I was eighteen, I actually had the chance to visit a real effects workshop, and saw some of the machinery they had. They even owned their own fire engine to produce rainstorms when the weather wasn’t co-operating with filming schedules. More sobering was the owner’s right hand, missing two fingers after an effect went disastrously wrong.

But I didn’t get into the movie biz, and modelmaking does not suit my short attention span. Every model I make ends up looking like it was hit by anti-aircraft fire, even when they’re sailing ships.

Costume on stand

But the Cosplay bug bit a few years ago, once we had settled down into a house where I had a workshop to call my own. I made my Mandalorian helmet, using trial and error and error and error. Once I’d stopped working on that (not once I’d got it right…I’m fairly realistic about my efforts here) I decided to tackle the Scout Trooper Helmet.

I don’t know why I coveted this particular helmet. It’s probably because “Return of the Jedi” was the first Star Wars film I saw at the cinema, and the Speeder Bike chase scene was burned onto my brain ever since.

Remembering the frequent disappointments with the Mando helmet, I swore that this time I would take things slow. Not rush stages and spoil things.

I found an old ski helmet at a sports sale and decided to use it as the base for the helmet. Then I decided the two other main materials were going to be the foam flooring tiles available in stores everywhere ($11.99 for four) and lots and lots of filler. Filler can be bought in big tubs, it’s almost stiff enough to mould and hold a shape, and you can sand it smooth. If you have patience.

I cut a disc out of a flat piece of floor tile and settled it on the helmet, then replaced the disc to make the raised section on top. The side pieces are held in place by a foam insert (white). Filler round the top attempts to smooth things over.

I cut a disc out of a flat piece of floor tile and settled it on the helmet, then replaced the disc to make the raised section on top. The side pieces are held in place by a foam insert (white). Filler round the top attempts to smooth things over.

WP_003264

I used some pipe insulation to make the raised section that goes from ear to ear around the back. This is the first place where careful measurement and symmetry comparisons would have been good.

WP_003271

The “jigsaw” lines are the result of using the straight edge of the floor tile, then filling the gaps in the jigsaw edge with glue. Amateur mistake. The glue resists sanding, either sticking to the sander, or melting and flinging glue everywhere.

WP_003294

As usual with projects like this, I can’t help spraying on some paint in the hopes it will start to look really good. It never does.

WP_003314

Heavy application of filler begins to cover over the glue jigsaw disaster. I start to use the filler to flare out the “ear” portions. Again, I did this without carefully checking the various reference photos I have of the real helmet.

WP_003316

I removed the foam inserts and immediately saw that I hadn’t got the front cut straight, or attached evenly. I SHOULD have taken it apart then and there. Instead I decided to try and press on and fix it as I went.

WP_003323

I was quite proud of this front piece. After so long staring at the cowling, it was nice to see the face of the trooper helmet emerge. I cut the visor hole freehand, and did not use any measure referents. It is not even. I did have scalpel blades to cut the foam tile, but no scalpel to hold them in. This is not an optimal situation.

WP_003344

Adding more filler helped the shape of the face plate, and emptied the filler tub. Please don’t imagine this is taking place in one or two extended sessions. Each advance takes place over five or ten minutes grabbed here and there amongst other adventures. On the plus side, this means the filler dries before I attempt to ruin the next bit.

WP_003345

The faceplate is way too long, so I need to cut it down. Plus it doesn’t go all the way around to the back, so I have a piece to put in. I added the purple piece because it’s raised detail on the actual helmet, and I felt putting in a piece of thin foam would be easier than sculpting it in filler.

WP_003346

This shows the gap at the back that needed sorting out.

WP_003347

With the faceplate cut down, the helmet sits at a more pleasing angle.

WP_003385 (1)

More filler and some determined sanding starts to get the right surface finish. I also cut and reshaped the corners of the cowl. It’s too high, but it’s the right shape.

WP_003386

The reshaping has left one side looking oddly angled. Naturally, I tried adding paint to see if it helped. You can see how well that worked.

WP_003419

Shaping the snout was moderately successful, and actually, adding more paint makes the whole thing look more of a piece. The contour lines running out from the snout are wrong though, and in remodelling I’ll get them wrong in a different way.

WP_003472

When I found the visor material (an old school binder cover) I couldn’t resist sticking it in temporarily and trying it on. It’s hard to see through, steams up, and is impossible to take selfies in, because you can’t see what you’re doing.

WP_003529

More sanding has improved the surface, but left the thing looking like it barely survived a fire.

WP_003530

This shot shows how badly asymmetrical the faceplate is. A devoted cosplayer would either start afresh, or tear the helmet down a few stages. I tried adding more paint.

WP_003581

Oh yes, that’s much…er…shinier.

WP_003582

In the real helmet, that cut down the side is where the faceplate lifts up so you can put it on. That doesn’t happen with this one, but it still has to be there.

WP_003583

Shots like this make it look pretty good. Mostly because they don’t include the reference photographs showing where I was going wrong.

WP_003584

The surface of the snout wasn’t smooth enough, so I decided to add another piece of the thin craft foam. This picture is just checking the fit – I sprayed it black before gluing it in.

WP_003591

Real dedication would have been continuing to sand and paint and sand and paint. But I lost all patience and glued the visor in instead. Now I couldn’t spray anymore, unless I went to the trouble of covering the visor. And you know how likely that is.

WP_003592

Couldn’t resist trying it on. Vaguely reminded of Snoopy.

WP_003606

With all work on surfacing pretty much abandoned, it was time to add on the little details. Measuring for pinpoint accuracy and comparisons with photo referents were just two things I didn’t do….

I added the "Enhanced comlink" piece to the bottom of the snout.

I added the “Enhanced comlink” piece to the bottom of the snout.

Now I needed the extra pieces to complete the snout. Here, measuring would be vital to get them looking exactly right.

Now I needed the extra pieces to complete the snout. Here, measuring would be vital to get them looking exactly right.

But unfortunately, I didn't do any.

But unfortunately, I didn’t do any.

WP_003656This whole project took around six months. Along the way, Mrs Dim reminded me that I’m not very good at this sort of thing, and I had a serious think about WHY I still do it. I can see the flaws in what I’ve made, even while I’m making it, but making it is something I enjoy doing. I don’t mind that I never get whole days to work on it. Probably wouldn’t enjoy it if I did. I know this is nothing like the 501st produce, but that’s ok too, because I don’t think I’m really doing this for the Cosplay aspect. It’s just something I do for me, something that isn’t writing, or cleaning, or cooking, or parenting. It may be less practical than knitting, less aesthetically pleasing than painting, but it’s my hobby.

Any suggestions for my next project? I quite fancy taking on a Clone Trooper helmet…..

There IS such a thing as a bad book.

If you’re a real fan of reading, you probably get really into your book. It’s not just a way to pass the time, you open the cover and dive in. If someone talks to you while you’re reading, there may be a moment or two of confusion as you emerge from the story-world and try to re-engage with reality.

r is for reading, Petra Hollander photography

r is for reading, Petra Hollander photography

Well, that’s the way it is with GOOD books. With a bad book it’s like trying to dive with a balloon tied to each wrist. Stupid phrasing, bad word choices or just irritating characters pitch you back out of the story again and again.

The last two books I’ve listened to (and I’m not going to name names) have been bad. The first had a protagonist who was weak and ineffective – this was a deliberate choice by the author, certainly – and time and again he was put into a position where he needed to show some backbone to gain ground. Each time he fails, wimping out, missing his chance, getting beaten. He mans up for the very final confrontation, of course, but by then it was way, way too late for me.

The second book read like a pale imitation of a series that’s become a guilty pleasure – the Stephanie Plum books of Janet Evanovich. This book had the same first-person style, the same age range, the hunky cop/almost boyfriend, the accidental involvement in a crime and then the luck to keep finding the clues. Oh, and the fact that the killer then targets our heroine, of course.

One for the Money – the first Stephanie Plum adventure. Emphatically NOT a bad book.

Where the series differs (aside from the one mighty Maguffin which I won’t mention because it’ll give the identity away) is that the book is dreadful. The main character tells us at length about a sad crime she sees on the news. We get the name of the victim, mentioned half a dozen times. Then she relates the same story to the almost boyfriend over dinner. Then, a little while later, he references the victim in a conversation. She can’t remember who it is. Not only that, but she monologues, internally for a couple of pages about how she can’t remember who it is. People passing me on the road must’ve wondered why I was pounding on the steering wheel and screaming “What ARE you? Some kind of stunned duckling? You were just talking about this person two minutes ago, you brainless sockpuppet!”

The character conveniently fogets a number of important facts from time to time, then other characters explain them at length. Since I’m not either a stunned duckling or a brainless sockpuppet (despite what Mrs Dim might say on the subject) I did not appreciate these reminders. There was a also a truckload of bad writing. If a character mentions that they are “weary with exhaustion”, I would suggest it is time to gently lay down the book, soak it in petrol and burn it for the good of humanity. If your central character is the target of a crazed killer, known to be in the area, someone who has taken pictures of them as they go about their daily business, it seems a bizarre choice for them to go into their office just deal with one more client, someone they don’t know, that they’ve never met before. Oh, and if that central character is (secrecy be damned, this was just too annoying) SUPPOSED TO BE PSYCHIC then having them INVITE A PERSON WHO WANTS TO KILL THEM INTO THEIR OFFICE seems really, really unlikely.

I’m sure people could go through my e-books and find errors. In fact, I guarantee it. But you know who’s standing behind those books? Just me. I wrote ‘em, I edited ‘em, I proofread ‘em and I published them. These other two books were from publishing houses and can be bought in regular bookstores. Just….don’t.