Rory, Rory, Tell Us A Story!

Rory's Story Cubes (Fright)

Fright Cubes!

We recently attended a friend’s birthday gathering, and while we were sat celebrating our success at the Ludorati Escape Room, one of the guests produced a handful of what we initially thought were dice. But these were no ordinary dice! These were Rory’s Story Cubes! Sets of dice, but instead of being marked with the traditional ‘pips’ or numbers, these featured pictures. One set (“Fright”, pictured left) had skulls, ghosts, traps and other scary images, while the second (“Clues”) was covered with symbols you might expect from a detective novel, such as Magnifying Glass, Fingerprint, DNA Helix, and Blood-Stain! Each set has three dice, and although there are many ways to use them, we went for the simplest: Roll all 6 dice, and make a story from how they land! Mix the order around to suit. We took turns to explain what our roll signified, each of us telling a more spine-chilling tale than the last, until we felt it best to stop, lest we scare away the other patrons of The Salutation!

There are currently nearly two dozen sets of Story Cubes, each featuring 3-9 dice, in various themes (including Dr Who, and Moomins, to go with the more generic Actions and Voyages!). “Rules” are included with each set, but they are more like guidelines, and the symbols and pictures do not have set meanings. The DNA spiral might mean finding a bio-metric clue, such as hair, or you may feel it refers to a family connection! The Portcullis could indicate a castle, but might be some other protected building, such as a Bank Vault, or even a person acting in a guarded manner!

Story Cubes

What Would You Write?

Here we have one of the stories we told! Shadow-in-Doorway -> Poison -> No Entry -> Microscope -> Television -> Blood!

I’m sure you can come up with your own tale about these pictures! Is the shadowed figure the Hero or Villain? Why is the entrance barred? Who’s blood ends the tale?

No two stories are ever the same! In fact, we had fun taking the same dice, and each telling a different story from them! In one, it wasn’t poison, but a Forbidden Potion that had magical properties!

An excellent way to cure writer’s block, or just while away an afternoon, you can use them solo, or with a group of friends. Mix and match them as you like. Stick to the “Rules”, or make your own! YOU are the author of these tales!

I am tempted to use a few of these cubes to tie in with my #WhatWouldYouWrite twitter feed, asking readers to interpret the minimal cues I provide (often #TodaysTitle), and suggest possible stories. Is that something you would be interested in? Do you search for inspiration? Search no more! Rory’s Story Cubes are here!

Why not tell us about what stories you have told with them? Or what you use to inspire your tales? Or even how you spend your days?

More Redesigns

To try to keep a coherent feel cross the Mad Dwarf brand, I have begun rebuilding the PC Wizard website.

Taking the main Mad Dwarf site as a template (as I have with Crystal Wizard and TechNo Prisoners), I have kept the blue and white of the original PC Wizard, giving a level of continuity.

PC Wizard

PC Wizard redesign

I still have a few details to iron out, but it has been a reasonably easy job, copying text from the existing site into the new template, and tweaking to account for the design differences.

It will soon go live, at which point there will be an announcement, and possibly a Grand Re-Opening!  Watch This Space!

Another New Redesign (Again!)

As you may have noticed, the main site, thecrystalwizard.co.uk, has undergone a redesign.

This is part of the recent re-acquisition of our Mother Site, maddwarf.co.uk. Mad Dwarf Productions (MDP) was the original “umbrella organisation” for all of my projects, but due to circumstances beyond my control, the website fell into disrepair. My recent projects sprang up without the guiding light of MDP to keep them coherent, and the designs all went in their own directions.

Now that MDP is back, I am slowly bringing all of the wayward children back into the fold. TechnoPrisoners was designed alongside MDP, and actually sits as sub-site, befitting its station as the first incarnation of MDP-Online. Crystal Wizard has now been brought in line, and the other sites will soon follow.

While I do not profess to be a Master Web-Designer, I have put no small effort into both the technical and aesthetic sides of this design, and I hope it works for you!

The colour schemes have been colour-matched, using a different scheme for each site, to represent their unique flavours, while relying on a common template. The base concept of using labelled Image Links aims to make the site both visually attractive and easy to use, giving quick recognition to each area. Rounded corners softens the look, giving a slightly more informal feel.

Behind the scenes, files have been tidied, renamed and optimised, stripping away unused clutter. The code for the pages has been almost entirely rewritten, incorporating labelled areas (DIV and SECTION tags), and many design elements moved to separate Style Sheets, for ease of maintenance.

I have tried to follow Best Practices for accessibility, incorporating ALT tags to describe images, and making the pages compatible with screen-reading technology for text-to-speech systems.

The Dark Art of SEO (Search-Engine Optimisation) has featured, but as this Alchemy involves tainting ones soul with the ever-vain search for Impressions, Clicks and Likes, I have kept it to the minimum required.

Analytics are run through Google’s offerings, tracking page hits, entry and exit pages, user flow and interactions. This anonymised data is useful for gauging interest, and locating faults, and can be used to suggest area that can use more attention.

Instead of creating a separate Style for mobile devices, the base theme has been written to automatically adjust, allowing the device to display content appropriately. An important design consideration, as people have a wide range of technologies to view the Web on, with a variety of screen-sizes available.

I hope this will lead to a comfortable, coherent experience for my readers, and welcome any feedback regarding the new design!

Shakespeare Lives

I’m really not sure what to make of Viktoria Modesta‘s new feature: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream“.

Made as part of the British Council‘s Shakespeare Lives #2016 programme of events marking 400 years since the Bard’s death, it shows VM as Titania, linked to some kind of digital dreaming machine, playing out part of the famous production in a Virtual Reality.

Titania

Titania Dreaming

The video contains some very striking imagery, switching between the futuristic lab where Titania sleeps and her dark, neon-lit imagined-reality, where she dances, free to live out any fantasy she wishes. In the dream, she is clothed entirely in a white 3d-printed outfit resembling some kind of skeletal structure, contrasting with Bottom’s black leather ‘armour’ (complete with smooth, full-face mask). But beyond the imagery, what else is there?

The original play contained themes of Finding Oneself, Dreams vs Reality, and (of course) Sexual Tension. These themes are well reflected in this  modern telling, if conveyed in a way Shakespeare could hardly have dreamed(!) of. Oberon is concerned that Titania is losing herself in the Dream, and fixating on her idealised self-image. The masks worn in the Dreamed Reality mirror the ones worn by actors, if a little more dramatic(!).

Director Sing J Lee allows VM to explore infatuation, alter-ego overpowering self, and self-presentation, echoing the play-within-a-play of the original and asking questions of all who would stand on stage and perform (and of those of us who would not!).

As I began – I am still not entirely sure what to make of it. But I hope that it fulfils it’s main intention of drawing the next generation towards The Great Bard. And also, towards VM, who, I feel, has only started to make the impact that she is capable of!

VM

VM

#TodaysTitle

For those of you who haven’t been following my Facebook or Twitter, I’ve been running a series I call “Today’s Title (What Would You Write?)”

I have been known to suffer from writer’s block, and lack of inspiration, and i’m sure others of you do, too. So I post some suggested titles of works, to see what people would make of them. I usually offer some alternatives, to get things started.

Stolen Moon

Stolen moon

The most recent post is “Stolen Moon”. Does this sound like a sci-fi epic to you? Did aliens steal the moon, or did humans steal an alien moon? Or does it bring to mind romantic thoughts? Lovers stealing kisses by moonlight? Or has their Moon been “stolen” by a jealous rival? Or a family-member who disapproves of their relationship and thwarts their plans to meet? Is it a heart-warmer, a tear-jerker or a tragedy?

Most of the Today’s Titles are based on the kind of day I’ve been having, as evidenced by “Road Block” and “Cancelled Appointment”, while a few rely on my interpretation of the Random Word Generator.

Once the title is chosen and published, it is always interesting to see what ideas other people bring. So why not follow one of these links, and let me know #WhatWouldYouWrite?

This Is Not Art

This is Not Art

This Is Not Art

Well, it’s not. Its a cheap rip-off of a well-known painting. All I’ve done is replace the text, the better to help you think on what isn’t Art. While the original meaning is not lost, it has taken on a fresh, related, meaning from its new context. Hold on …

But what about this:

Not Art!

Not Art!

Now that can’t be Art! A rushed copy, using whatever materials are close to hand, and an online translation algorithm. Well, I wanted to get this post written today, not next week, when I’d sourced a reasonable facsimile of Magritte’s pipe, and an expert translator who understood the context of the piece. But now I’ve said that, it makes this piece part of the zeitgeist, a perfect example of the Internet Age of Instant Gratification. #Art.

Opium

Opium

OK, lets find something that seriously is NOT Art: Adverts. Surely images produced purely to sell products can’t be Art? I just don’t see the artistic value in making pictures or videos whose only measurable merit is how much profit they bring in for their share-holders. I mean, they are just created to have the maximum emotional impact, whether that be humour, lust, guilt or envy, leading to influenced behaviour … hang on there one minute …

But what about the products themselves? Packaged  to maximise shelf-space and branded to be eye-catching, that can’t count as Art can it? Do designers really put that much artistic effort into what is essentially a disposable container for fizzy sugar-water?

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola

I’ll admit that some products have gone on to become iconic images, but this cannot have been the intentions of the advertising executives, stuck in their artless offices, scheming about how best to relieve us of our hard-earned crust? Can it?

Adverts often rely on using sex and sexuality to sell their wares. but can Nick Kamen prancing around in his undies really be compared to Michelangelo’s “David”? While The Nude in Art has a long and illustrious history, having a woman shove her ‘assets’ in your face while shouting “BUY MORE STUFF” isn’t really Art is it?

Mr Chad

Wot! No Art?

OK, lets move to the other end of the scale. Graffiti. The puerile scrawlings on toilet walls. Vulgar rhymes and anatomically-unlikely doodles. Even the colourful “tags” that are left on bridges and sidings are usually more notable for their abstruse placement than original, worthwhile content. This vandalism of public property does little to embiggen the World of Art. Pushing your personal or political agenda through anonymous images and slogans, designed to shock and titillate, can hardly be worthy of the name Art, can it?

Politics

Politics!

Food. Food isn’t Art, no matter what Instagram tries to tell you! Food is for eating, not taking photos of and showing the whole world!

Chippy Art

A Study In Colour 3

Salad Art

A Study In Colour 2

Fried Art

A Study In Colour 1

 

 

 

 

 

Do we really care what our food looks like? Would it be just as pleasant in greys and blacks? Surely after the first mouthful we would realise that our brain has been lied to, and shut down the illusion?

I’m not concerned here with Art made from food. Bacon Dresses, carved tomatoes, and that stop-motion video sequence can all be called Art. but food, presented as a meal, to be eaten?

Despite the obvious similarities of colour in the first two examples here, they are different meals. The visual similarities produce no effect on their taste, and certainly not on their nutritional value.

So there we have it. A short summary of what might (or might not) be described as Not Art.

But I am often told (mostly by Lucretia) that Art is subjective. So what subject do you feel is not Art? Where do we find a lack of artistic expression?

I Haven’t Been Reading Much Lately

Well, actually I have.

A fair amount of the conversation at the pub is centred around what novels people have read recently. From the latest Joe Abercrombie to a re-reading of Dune, we dissect the content, opine on our favourite characters, and bemoan the lack of further books (or bemoan the fall in quality of the later ones).

I say “we”, but in general, I am excluded from these talks. In the last fifteen years (since I bought a car, and stopped getting the bus to work), I have read considerably less than one novel per year. I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I have read,  but I tend to find other things to do with my time. Often (although by no means always) things where I am the creator, rather than the consumer. I have several websites to create/source content for, an ever-growing toy soldier collection, along with the battle-field scenery I have made, multiple half-finished (and a couple of half-started) electronics projects, to name but a few. I also play games of many varieties (computer-based, card and board games, role-playing and other narratives (RPG), and the “augmented reality” Pokemon Go).

Several of these activities inherently include reading. Quite a bit is reference work, such as the W3schools website-tutorials, or RPG Rulebooks. I have had to relearn a lot of electronics, pouring over manuals and discussing projects on web-forums. The rpg.net games forums take up quite a bit of my time, including the speculative-fiction around the settings for the games.

But when the conversation lulls, and someone breaks the silence with “Anyone read anything good recently?”, they do not appreciate my answer of “CSS Tutorials” or “The Exalted chapter-heading stories“. “Someone on the internet had quite a good back-story for their character” doesn’t seem to go down as well as “<published author you may have heard of> has a new book out”. And no-one (except maybe The Ardingthoth) is interested in “I learnt how to reduce the pin-out usage of my Arduino, by adding a series-to-parallel shift-register”!

I have collected a few novels, including actually buying some, but they are still unread. China Mieville’s “UN LUN DUN” looks very interesting, and I was impressed with “The City and The City”, so I should get round to reading it. I got half-way through the first chapter of “The Three-Body Problem” before I put it aside, awaiting a time when I can give it the attention it deserves. They sit, alongside “The Antivirus Hacker’s Handbook”, “In The Beginning … Was The Command Line” and “The Steampunk Bible”, gathering dust as I concentrate on other endeavours. (ASIDE: Also on that bookshelf are a soldering iron, a copy of the “Blood Royale” board game, a stack of printer paper, Fodor’s USA (1991) and Spike Milligan’s “Hitler: My Part in His Downfall”)

It’s not that I don’t like reading. I do like it. I read a lot. But not novels. It’s not that I don’t like novels. I do. Well, it depends on the novel, but I am happy that the medium exists, and have read many a good novel, novella, short-story and 35-book series in my time. But not recently. Ask me about Ray Bradbury. E.E. “Doc” Smith. Tolkien, or Le Guin.

But don’t be surprised if, when asked “What have you read recently?”, that although I have read a lot (possibly more than you), I answer: “Nothing much”.

Misty Morning, Clouds in the Sky

Like a dreary Rothko, the North Sea steadfastly refused to roll and roil. If it hadn’t been for the surly surf lapping languidly at the edge of the sands, I might have thought it a painted ocean.

The Sea

The Sea

Such was the welcome I received from “bracing” Skegness. The rain hadn’t stopped all day, my legs ached from driving, and the Model Village was closed. But I was on holiday, dammit, and there was ART to be had!

Before long, we were installed in our room, and the weather had improved slightly. Enough to realise that the sea-based wind-farms, notably absent in the previous scene, had marched towards the land enough to be seen!

Wind Farms

Sea Windmills

While this picture shows the extent of the wind-farms, it doesn’t really do justice to their size. As we later discovered, they rise 80 metres above the water, with a turbine diameter of 120 metres (for reference, the London Eye stands 135 metres tall, so a turbine would just squeeze inside).

Closer View of Wind Farm

Closer View of Wind Farm

Being 5km from the shore, my camera was only able to pick up a certain level of detail, but I captured what I could.

Close up view of Wind Turbines

Closer Still

 Now, I’ve heard talk of the turbines spoiling the view, but personally I find them majestic, and I marvel at their construction! One hundred and twenty metre (120) span! 5 kilometres from shore! I’d rather see these awesome structures marching across the horizon than a dirty coal-burner sat pouring soot and smoke out into the air!

Talking of painted ships on panted oceans, the next significant sight took the ubiquitous wind-farms as a back-drop and introduced the Admiral Benbow sea-front cafe-bar.

The Admiral Bendbow

The Admiral Bendbow

Nestled into the sea defences at Chapel-St-Leonard’s, the Admiral Benbow has been a labour of love for it’s proprietors, and this shows in it’s friendly atmosphere and quirky decor. On dry days, one can sit out in the Hispaniola, built from recovered groynes and wave-breaks, and enjoy the view!

The Hispaniola

The Hispaniola

While in Chapel St Leonard’s, Lucretia insisted on finding some geocaches. Unfortunately, some were placed on private land, that the golf club has now restricted access to. But we found the ones that are still available!

No walk along the beach would be complete without pictures of the sand, artfully arranged by Mother Nature and adorned with sea-shells (which can be purchased from a lady, near the beach, if the old rhyme is to be believed!). In this shot, one of the razor-shells has fallen to echo it’s namesake.

Sand

Sand

Art is all about perception, so I’m told. So I found a couple of different ways of seeing the environment, to see if the adage held true. First, a close up:

Close up of Sand

Close up of Sand

And secondly, a shot that encompasses both tricks of perception and accidental art! I was trying for a low-level shot, including the wind farms, but ended up with this, that makes the sea look a lot rougher than it actually was!

Rough Sea!

Rough Sea!

Back at the wind-farm, a ship is spotted. It must have been moving at some speed, to pass the turbines so quickly, but I managed to get a shot of it.

Wind Ship

Wind Ship

I presume it was as supply-vessel for the substation that sits amongst the turbines, piping the electricity into cables for transmission to the shore.

Sub-Station

Sub-Station (Disguised as AT-AT Walker)

Also in attendance was some sore of exploratory vessel (I think. It might have been maintenance of some sort. I hope it wasn’t part of the fishing fleet!).

Explorer

Explorer

So, we took a break from ships, and had a coffee on the pier at high tide (after negotiating the Amusement Arcade that forms the entrance, and, due to strong discipline, only having a quick go on the Addams Family pinball, and a short play on the 2p falls). Not that the tide seemed any closer than low tide! While it was enjoyable, it was tinged with sadness, and I can only imagine distraught parents trying to console the child who fell foul of this tragedy:

Lost Lolly

Lost Lolly

To overcome this we went and found a few more geocaches, walked along the beach some more, and eventually found a very nice bar to have dinner (I can recommend the Big Share Platter!).

And, as with all things, our trip came to an end. With skies darkening, we gave one last wave to the wind-farms, hopped back into Li’lSuzy, and were on our way home.

Last View of Wind Farms

Last View of Wind Farms

 

Write On, Comrade!

Poetry Can F*ck Off!
An evening of Words, at Leicester’s Upstairs at The Western theatre.

“Poetry can seriously f*ck off authority figures. It gets under the skin of those whose brains have been made rigid by power.”

I’ve been hoping to find something tempting at the Western since it opened, being one of the few pub-based theatres in the country, but this is the first show that really grabbed my attention. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. The posters featured little more than the NSFW title, and a quick search revealed the show to be about Rebellion, Subversion and Defiance.

Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene

Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene

As we were seated in the warm, cramped space (every ticket sold!), a gent sporting a fine beard and steel guitar (Mike Dr Blue), alongside a man with a keyboard on shoulder-strap (this would be Roy Hutchins, narrator), tinkled out some tunes. This was to form the background (and sometime foreground) music for the show.

Once the show started in earnest, we were thrown in at the deep end, as Mr Hutchins launched into a tirade of how poetry has changed the world, forming rebellions, toppling dictators and freeing the oppressed. The three other figures on stage were Jonny Fluffypunk, Sameena Zehra (a veteran of the Delhi AIDS awareness campaigns) and Selina Nwulu (daughter of Nigerian refugees who fled their civil war). They counterpointed Hutchins’ speech with numerous diverse quotes, including Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, William Blake and Gill Scott Heron, to name but a few, echoing them in triplicate, giving weight to the words.

Shelly’s Masque of Anarchy, as recited by Ghandi while he stood peacefully against the the British troops, rang out through the small space to remind us of what all dictators and oppressors fear: our numbers!

“Rise, like lions after slumber
In un-vanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!
Ye are many—they are few!
YA ARE MANY! – THEY ARE FEW!

It ran on in this vein, building a picture of the power of poetry, and how it has been used since time immemorial to embrace the suffering of the dispossessed, clarifying their feelings, expressing them eloquently, and as a clarion-call to action.

Another world is not only possible, She is on her way. On a quiet day,I can hear her breathing. Arundhati Roy

The interval came as no small relief! The heady atmosphere of rebellion was building up, and my chest was tight with emotions. The plight of those who had gone before us had been highlighted; the suffering and subjugation dating back even to Sumerian times. But also, as Jonny’s voice echoed the inscription on Ozymandias‘s statue, that no power can last. Even the King of Kings can be brought low.

We filed back in after the intermission, wary, yet hopeful, of what was to follow.

We were not to be disappointed! With the lights still low, a  local choir stood and performed a very heartfelt “Bread and Roses”. The cool evening breeze, so recently to refresh us, suddenly seemed so far away, as we were transported back to the Massachusetts textile strike, 1912, and the lines of women marching (to avoid a recent No Loitering law!) by the factory gates, demanding not only decent wages (bread), but respect, and dignified conditions (roses).

And more was to come!

The first time I heard it, I didn’t really get “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. How could I? A naive young white boy full of hope and ambition, stretching out on my own, but with a secure safety net in place. Now, many years later, to  hear it recited by The Poetry Army, I felt I finally understood something about what it was about.

I still don’t ‘get’ “Still I Rise”, but I can see some of what it means, and to hear it in choral form set my  heart racing.

From the Peasant’s Revolt (1381), through to Occupy Wall Street (ongoing), featuring Women’s Liberation, American slavery (Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was particularly harrowing), Vietnam (we had a good sing-a-long to Country Joe McDonald), General Pinochet’s brutal regime, and many more, we were taken through a history of Words overcoming Oppressors.

So if you, like Roddy Doyle, think that “Poetry was School. All poetry could fuck off”, why not take a moment to think on where poetry was not School, and firmly refused to fuck off, even the the face of the worst violence and oppression. Poetry that changed the world. Undermined dictators, unified protesters and brought the spotlight of the world onto injustices.

“Poetry can seriously f*ck off authority figures. It gets under the skin of those whose brains have been made rigid by power.”

Poetry Can Fuck Off!