There was a point during January when I couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t January. December was so chaotic- what with Lucas’s arrival, frantic Christmas shopping, family and friend visits and pretty huge lifestyle adjustments, the festive season and first month flew by. Last month, though? Not so much. It’s a pretty universal thing. Christmas is so merry and bright and celebrates indulgence, whereas January is drab and cold, everyone’s skint and those over-indulgences give way to shame and calorific austerity.

All things considered, it’s a bit of a relief when February rolls around. At a mere 28 days, it’s a neat gateway that slides us nicely into March in time for spring. However, with its convenience, it brings a new set of challenges. I can count at least ten birthdays, all family and close friends too so I can’t even patch them. As well as this, let’s not forget the neon red heart in the room: that most beloved/detested of questionable holidays, Valentine’s day.

Valentine’s Day brings certain expectations. If you’re loved up, you’re expected to buy into the cards and flowers consumerism of it all. Single? You’re expected to either partner up ASAP or stay out of sight at home so as to not ruin the day for smug couple-types. Into casual dating? Better super-like that Mr/s Right Now ASAP and hunker down until it passes. Whatever your relationship status, there’s always the failsafe option of watching a movie, right? Rather than the usual well-trodden rom-com path, why not think outside the (chocolate) box a little? I’ve put together a wee list of some of my favourite alternative romantic movies, guaranteed* to land you that elusive second date.
*not a guarantee.

Audition (1999)

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If you’ve ever been on a first date that went well, then fizzled out, you might just want to watch this before you send that follow-up text. Takashi Miike’s slow burning, visceral Audition makes single sofa Saturdays seem a lot more appealing. Following the death of his beloved wife, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is encouraged to start dating again. Unfortunately it’s before internet dating is really socially accepted, so he has to get creative in his quest for love. He posts an advert for a fake film audition, which is either the creepiest or sweetest approach I’ve ever heard. For now we’ll go with sweetest… When fragile, engrossing Asami (Eihi Shiina) turns up, he’s instantly smitten. The two go for a lovely, romantic dinner, and it seems like they’ve hit it off. So, is it happily ever after? Well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be worth watching if it was, would it? For two thirds of this film’s running time it’s a deftly handled romantic comedy with a pretty neat twist on the . The final act smashes into you without warning, and descends so quickly into madness that it’s hard to take in upon first viewing. You might want to consider screening your online matches that little bit more carefully after this.

May (2002)

May is an oddity that I only discovered in the last year. It’s actually quite a sweet film, albeit one which made me terribly uneasy, and on the verge of seriously cringing for most of its duration. Our titular heroine (Angela Bettis) is a teeny bit of an oddity: lonely and ostracised as a child, she seeks companionship from anyone who shows her kindness. She doesn’t really differentiate between genders, she just wants a pal. And woe betide anyone who gets in her way. Her clumsy attempts at forming relationships go from bad to wrose, from dreamy mechanic Adam (Jeremy Sisto) to domineering Polly (Anna Faris). May is a genuinely touching film, but our unreliable narrator (I love a good unreliable narrator) ensures that we’re strung along from one tense situation to another. Thankfully, there are no schlocky scares to underline this: just a growing sense of tension as May becomes increasingly unraveled. It’s also a macabre, modern take on the Frankenstein’s monster story: in her desperation May makes a friend, a doll she calls Amy and creates from a patchwork of… well, you’ll just have to see. All in all, this is a really sweet, criminally underseen little gem and an assured debut from director Lucky McKee.

Candyman

Ever felt yourself pining for the one who got away? That one that seemed to end before it ran its natural course? Or, at the very least, have you ever played that sleepover game where you do the ritual to see your future spouse’s face in the mirror? If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’, you’ll find a lot of resonance in Candyman. Based on the Clive Barker short story The Forbidden, it’s about student Helen (Virginia Madsen) who stumbles across the Candyman story while researching urban legends for her thesis. She becomes slightly obsessed, chasing down the legend’s origins and, umm, accidentally summoning him into existence. Whoops. Candyman is a great example of a slasher without pandering to genre convention. It respects its source material, but Tony Todd’s embodiment of the title role is unlike anything you could’ve imagined while reading. Even if the whole ‘mouth full of bees’ thing is enough to give you the dry heave.

Wild At Heart (1990)

OK, so this is probably the least ‘horror’ leaning film on the list. However, it does feature witches, occult symbology, sinister hitmen, bad omens and one of cinema’s most chilling psychopaths. It’s also one of my all-time favourites, so it’s staying. In the midst of all that, though, is a good ol’ fashioned ‘lovers on the run’ story. What’s more romantic than packing your bags and going on a spontaneous road trip? Well, not a lot- even when you’re on the run from hired goons that your mum’s hired to kill your boyfriend. Wild At Heart is an oddly accessible curio from the master of weird, David Lynch. It’s a gloriously grotesque postcard from the heartland of America, loosely following the yellow brick road of The Wizard Of Oz. Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) drive across the country encountering a host of oddballs and assassins, the perils they face along the way only bringing them closer together. Equal parts black comedy, violence and pastiche, it also features an unforgettable performance from Willem Defoe as the loathsome, sleazy Bobby Peru (like the country). One of Lynch’s most linear works, it’s disturbing, deranged and deeply sexy.

Cherry Falls (2000)

I deliberated on this one: there are better examples of horror/romance, but this won out as it recalls awkward high school memories, subverts the usual slasher movie convention of the Last Virgin Standing, is gleefully silly and, most importantly, features a supporting role from Michael Biehn. And, in my opinion, not enough films do. This film is entirely ridiculous but I enjoyed its attempts at turning the old cliché on its head. I know it’s never going to remembered as a classic of its genre but it’s an interesting enough little twist. In any case I’m a sucker for a good slasher film, often the sillier the better. It’s also notable for a starring role from the dearly departed Brittany Murphy, still managing to seem bonkers as a virginal model student and daughter of the local sheriff. Bless ‘er.

Other notable near-inclusions: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Fly (1986), Interview with The Vampire (1994), Haut Tension (2003), Let the Right One In (2008).

Happy new year, everyone! The collective mess of 2016 has finally drawn to a close. Never has a year carried such a weight of anticipation as 2017. I know you can’t really blame a year for being ‘bad’. The loss of celebrity idols doesn’t equate to a ‘bad’ year (although Bowie and Alan Rickman within days was a bit sore). If we’re being really pernickety, time is linear and the concept of it is a man made construct, so we can’t constrict bad times to a 12 month period.

Still it’s always nice to put a full stop on a stressful time, which is what 2016 was for me- and a lot of friends, too.

It wasn’t all bad though. One of the good things about reflecting on the past year is remembering how much good actually happened. Upon reflection there was a lot to be thankful for. Even before I started blogging again I liked to have a wee look back on the year that was- it’s something I’ve always done at this time of year. Now that I have a blog again it’s nice to have a snapshot of different times of the year. I can see how my writing has developed (if at all- you tell me). It shows me how far I’ve come in a lot of aspects of my life. In this year of big change that’s been especially welcome. As is tradition I’ve compiled a wee list of some of my favourite posts of this year: ones that are special to me, that I’m especially proud of or ones that have had memorable responses. Let me know what you think of my choices… I haven’t even been blogging again for a year so I guess I’m still learning!

FYI, clicking on the post titles will take you straight to them.

Norwegian For Beginners

This was my first post of the year, although it took me until February. I’d meant to write a travel post after our first Berlin trip in November 2015 but graduation, work and Christmas sort of got in the way. Three days in Oslo seemed like the perfect way to break myself back in to writing, and try something new with travel writing. It also meant I could show off the sweet skills of my new phone camera (alas, we can’t all afford the tools we’d like) and new found love for VSCO. Writing about something new helped to refocus me. It enlivened a love for writing that had lain dormant. I also wrote that Berlin blog after our second trip, which you can find here and here.

In hindsight

Despite being an early entrant, this was one of my favourite posts of the year. It wasn’t written with any agenda or expectation. I was completely free in writing it. It was just a nice way of documenting a spontaneous adventure, something different after a hectic 2015 and the start of (what I thought) would be a year of adventures. If there’s anything to take from this post, it’s that I should learn to just write for the enjoyment of doing it. It’s easy to write yourself into a rut but getting out of it can be tricky. It’s definitely something I’ll be taking with me in 2017.

A Protest

In all honesty I got a little complacent after graduation. The job market started to pick up after new year but- other than just apply for ’em- I wasn’t doing much to make myself a Top Candidate. I fell into a routine of applying for jobs during the day, working in a bar at night time and being thoroughly miserable for the entirety. In March, I received a shock when I was let go, over the phone, without any warning or explanation. I wrote this post after weeks of trying to explore other options (such as employment tribunals) and realising that I had none. My case met all of the criteria for a tribunal, but as I was on a zero hour contract I had no entitlement. It left me feeling at the end of my rope. I felt like no one could help me- or wanted to. I wrote this post to make people aware of the conditions that zero hour staff worked under- regardless of the establishment. After posting it, I went for a walk to prepare myself for the negative feedback. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The outpouring of support was pretty overwhelming and I even got a new job- and a reconnected friendship- out of it.

In hindsight

This whole debacle was one of the biggest hidden blessings of the year. It forced me to rethink where I wanted to go, and look at areas in which I was lacking. It made me take action. I’d gotten lazy. I started looking into volunteering opportunities, and got more involved in the online blogging community. I took my story to my local MP who was immediately on board (because she is amazing). She took my case to Westminster and used it as part of a campaign against zero hour contracts. Unfortunately the DWP still thinks they’re a great idea but there’s a long way to go. The DWP is also headed by a man who allegedly believes in gay conversion while also getting embroiled in extra-marital sexting. Workers’ rights are really close to my heart but I didn’t get as involved as I would’ve liked last year. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings.

Speaking of unexpected twists…

Little Surprises

Writing about personal issues has never been my forte. For all that I post on social media, it’s never that deep. I’m just not a very open person. Some people aren’t. I admire the openness of people who can wear their hearts on their sleeves, but that’s just not me. However the feedback from A Protest gave me a boost in confidence. I found that I could write about personal issues if I felt they could help other people. It didn’t make me feel all that vulnerable if I knew that other people might take something from it, or use it to further their own knowledge.

Our pregnancy announcement was met with an influx of congratulations but I felt like a fraud. It had taken us a long time to get to a happy place with the news. It was a shock for which we weren’t ready, or even sure that we wanted. My first reaction wasn’t excitement. It’s hard when every pregnancy announcement, blog or website talks about the joy of impending motherhood when you don’t know how you feel. The two weeks in between taking a pregnancy test and sharing our news were the loneliest and most terrifying of my life. We didn’t know how we were going to proceed and I couldn’t tell anyone until we did. I wanted to put a little contribution out there in my corner of the internet for anyone in the same position. I wrote this thinking that if at least one scared expectant mum saw it, she’d know she wasn’t alone. It was still scary to publish, but it turned out to be my most-read post thus far and the response was pretty overwhelmingly positive.

In hindsight

I could never have predicted the reaction this post received. This was only my third post of the year. I had no following. I wrote it so my friends could see it. The amount of shares, comments and messages that I received, from people who had felt the same, was unreal. It just showed that the way I felt wasn’t weird. It didn’t mean I was going to be a bad mum. It was normal. It was what spurred me to keep writing, but with the same honesty I’d put into this. To everyone who read this, or who will read it, I hope you manage to take something from it- and please know that however you feel, you’re not alone.

Baby Talk

After months of writing pregnancy updates, I’d hit a wall. Writing about pregnancy had been a great way of helping me navigate it. There had been a few missed weeks where I’d been lacking in inspiration, working back shifts and getting home late or just felt a bit deflated. I’d tried to write different kinds of posts but a creeping self-doubt had set in. Posts where I’d tried to make a serious point descended into hormone-fuelled rants. Deviations from my usual content felt forced, uninteresting, unfunny. I couldn’t think of how to get out of it, but opted to stop trying to make it happen. In that time I’d noticed a pattern in comments people were making about me, my bump and pregnancy in general. The more it went on, and the more I smiled through gritted teeth, an idea came to me. I started taking note of the more common ones, mentally noting the things I wished I could say. Stuck at home with a bout of the lurgy one day, I wrote them all down and voila- a list long enough to make a post out of. Again I almost resigned this one to draft post purgatory in case it came across as ‘woe is me, no one understands my life choices’. To combat this I scheduled the post and busied myself for when it was due to launch. When I came back to it, it had already been shared by some new and expectant mum pals as well as- the ultimate test- child free pals, too. Not too shabby.

In hindsight

I guess a common theme here is to have more confidence in posts that I think people will hate. I know, you should write for yourself and not care what people think. The fact is, as much as writing is cathartic for me, it’s also about connectivity. Getting comments from people who’ve read what I’ve written, and have their own take on it, is the biggest compliment because it means they’ve engaged with it. Even if people don’t agree with me- well, it’d be boring if everyone thought the same. Pregnancy is such a topic of contention- I’d read a few posts and they can come across as a little sanctimonious. I made an effort to not come across that way, and I think it worked. This one taught me that just because a topic has been written about, doesn’t mean mine will be the same. My voice isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If I can take anything into my 2017 blogging agenda, it should be this.

29 Things

Again there are so many “X Things Before x Years” posts out there, I never thought mine would be any different. However, approaching 30 felt like a big deal to me. One that should be marked. I’d never made a “30 things to do before I’m 30” list because, well, I didn’t really know where I was heading. All ambition and no direction has always been my downfall. The place I’m in now as a result is far removed from what I imagined. I thought about listing 30 things I should’ve done, but what would’ve been the point? Listing your regrets, and things you didn’t do, is a waste of time. It’s not going to make them happen. Instead I went a little more introspective and looked at what I’d learned instead.

In Hindsight

Writing has always been really cathartic for me, and none more so than here. Not only that but it was revealing. Thinking about what I’ve learned in the last ten years made me realise how much I’ve actually done. It made me see how far I’ve progressed- maybe I’m not where I thought, but it’s been a hell of a journey getting here. Again I used a sick day (this time muscular pain which had pretty much left me bed-bound) and typed until I had a complete list. The first few took time but once they did, they kept coming. It helped me focus on my achievements rather than my failings. It reminded me that even when I thought I’d gone the wrong way, I’d still taken something from it. Reflection is eye-opening, and it can be scary, but this taught me that it’s worth checking in every once in a while.

His Story Chapter One and Two

OK so this one is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically two posts. One is a continuation of the other though, and they tell the same story, so it’s cool right? These posts were important for a couple of reasons. First of all, superficially, they were the first posts on this, my new blog domain. It seems trivial but it was a big deal for me. Blogging has always been a sideline for me, even with my increased content this year. It was never something I’d invested in (other than time). Investing in a new domain and theme meant paying actual money, which meant I had to really believe in what I was putting out- or rather, in where I was taking it. Going self-hosted was a big step for me and I looked into a lot of options before I did. I haven’t had much chance to get the best of it but it’s still early days.

Secondly- obviously- it gave me a chance to reflect on my birthing journey and share it with whoever might be interested. I didn’t want to present a sugar coated view of labour, but didn’t want to go into the blood, sweat and tears either. I like to think that months of writing about pregnancy in that way had made it easier to write about the birthing part, too.

In Hindsight

I’m not sure I was prepared for how emotional this would be to write. After restarting my blog to document pregnancy, surely I knew all along that a birth story would be the natural end. As I said though, I’d gotten so used to pregnancy that it was hard to associate this baby with the bump I’d grown to love. The birth story was a definite full stop to a previous chapter. In the weeks that have passed, I’m glad that I have pregnancy posts to read back on. It’s nice to see everything that we got up to, and how it felt at the time. However, a very distinct new story has very definitely started. I might be a little melancholy to leave the old one behind. There was so much help along the way, check ins every few weeks, a definite end. The new one doesn’t have an ending, or much direction. That’s what makes it scary, but it’s also what makes it exciting.

Black Mirror made its return on October 21st, with a new series double the length of its predecessors and  big, shiny Netflix budget to fund it. For the uninitiated, it’s the brainchild of satirist, malcontent and silver fox Charlie Brooker, and explores a future not too removed or dissimilar to our own: one where technology, and our reliance on it, has made everything that little bit darker. It’s science fiction, but not so outlandish that it feels unimaginable. It has an almost prophetic feel to it, and that’s where its danger has always been. Who would’ve thought that, some years after its debut episode, the Prime Minister would be accused of getting his jollies from a dead pig?

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I feel like I say this every month but October has COMPLETELY disappeared from under my nose. A six day week, 8pm finishes and home renovation put a dent in my written output for the week, and before I realised it we’re more than halfway through the month. No time like the present, then- I had a film-based post planned for last week but just about scrabbled together a weekly progress one so hey, I’ll double up next week. Maybe.

Getting back to business, my first resurrected foray into film writing definitely gave me some pause for thought. Reading it back, I don’t love what I wrote, but that’s expected. I’m out of shape. My analytical skills aren’t honed by hours of box set binges and symbolic code-breaking. There’s no better way to get back in the habit than practice though, right? Well, practice and scouring other film blogs for inspiration. My chosen focus this week was already a no-brainer. It was practically a gift.

At the end of this week Ally and I are making a rare jaunt through to the capital to see the one and only John Carpenter in concert. Carpenter has either written or co-written the score to every film he’s made, and has decided it’s time to tour them. He’s also released two albums of non-film scores and we have them on vinyl, so I have both a fairly good idea and no idea what to expect.

john-carpenter-lost-themes-vinyl-birthday

It has a present to Ally but also, umm, to me

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As I mentioned last time, I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis and I’m still not sure if the catalyst was a blogging crisis or a personal one. Blog topics are an easier one to change up though, so I thought I’d start with that and see where it took me. My prior blogging incarnations were film-based and, encouraged by joining in Twitter chats run by A Film Club, it seemed like a natural progression for me. It’s definitely one topic I feel comfortable writing about: not a new direction but a challenging one. The only problem was where to start!

Now that we’re officially into October, I’ve started feeling festive. The last few days have seen a definite turn in the air. If you go a walk at the right time (and provided it’s dry) there’s a definite glow you just don’t get any other time of year. With the nights fair drawin’ in (as yer granny might say), what better time to draw the curtains, coorie in and get into the Hallowe’en spirit with some horror?

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