Mario and Me

It's obvious that I was a SEGA kid growing up. In my Favourite Video Games list, Sonic and his four excellent titles made it to third place, whilst Mario barely scraped into the list as the Mario Party series. I didn't own a GameBoy, nor an NES, SNES, N64 or Gamecube, and would barely be able to remember owning my Wii for it's basically one game I really liked.

That game was Super Mario Galaxy.

I wrote about how I loved it ten years ago in 2007. Even then I was saying it was one of the best games I'd ever played, and it still is. I wish I still had my Wii, as I can only remember the music and the enjoyment I had from whizzing Mario around space, the 3D levels rolling and rotating in surprising and awesome ways. I loved the game, almost every second of it, and I was sad when I lost all faith in the Wii. I never ended up playing Super Mario Galaxy 2, but it was supposedly even better than that game.

"i really hope that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is made, just for more levels, but I have a sinking feeling it might not "
My blog, in 2007, predicting Super Mario Galaxy 2

Prior to Super Mario Galaxy I was a basic bitch when it came to Mario games. I played Super Mario Bros with my friend at his house. I remember playing them, but can I remember anything about them, not really. The first Mario game I remember really enjoying was Super Mario 64, a game that blew my tiny little mind like it did to all 2D platforming games that first played it. It blew everything away and then some. I didn't really get a chance to get to grips with it until it's port to the Nintendo DS, as Super Mario 64DS, which was the reason I got my DS in the first place. I played it to death, and loved every second of it, even if some of the levels and the gameplay has aged pretty poorly.

The DS afforded me another chance to get to know Mario - New Super Mario Bros. was released, a kind of reboot sequel type thing that was a 2D take on the game. It was utterly brilliant too, and once again I realised that in my youth I was Sonic through and through, but maybe I should have been more Mario. His games have aged better than Sonic's has, and he's had a run of games that eclipse even some of the best games that have been made.

I got my Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Connie and I have played it a lot. But tomorrow, after a decade away from Mario games, I'm taking delivery of Super Mario Odyssey, the next big game with Mario, and from the early reaction it's to be expected as one of the greatest games the icon has ever been in, a list that is as crowded as any of the best games series' of all time.

My love of Mario comes from a place where he went from arch nemesis in the 1990s to 2000s and sheer delight. Now, as an adult, I can't wait to be mesmerised by the games again. I don't find "realistic death simulators" like the war games interesting, I'm in it for the fun and gameplay, and the Nintendo Switch is already a great place for that, and hopefully with Odyssey it's going to be the pinnacle I've been waiting my gaming life for.

I can't wait, but I must.

The Set List

Over the past few months two of my closest friends have became parents for the first time. Steve and Colin both welcomed their kids into the world this year, and as such we've given them a few tips and tricks and advice when asked. I gave Steve an Isofix car seat tutorial, a big shift from the last tutorial I gave him which might have been on how to set up Google Chrome on his new phone. Colin asked for help with burping and took a video chat from Canada with Etta used as a live doll to demonstrate some of the sleep-saving tactics that we used on her.

One bit of advice I'd give any new parent is one that has become near essential for Connie and I to survive - it's all about routine baby.

When Joni was young she suffered from extremely difficult eczema across her body and as such we had to lather her in oils and creams and ointments for near on a year and a half religiously. This was key to keeping her skin under control, and it took a lot of pain and trial and error to find what worked. We were always told she'd grow out of it, and it is now managed very well, but what it meant was that post-bath at night a routine had to be followed to the letter, with the creams on in an order and quantity each night without fail.

This lead us to discover that we'd stumbled onto a key feature of sleep-training - that of the routine. Shortly after we started the routine, Joni got on board, and now, three years later, survives only on that routine. If we deviate slightly, at first it was a nightmare. Now, she rolls with the punches a lot better and full steps can be truncated and even missed if we have to, but most of the time, no matter where we are and what we are doing, we try to strive and keep the routine on course. Even when flying we tried it, and it seemed to work.

Etta has of course melded into this routine. The girls bath together and then get dried and dressed. We've changed up the routine each time a change is needed - new bedrooms, teeth brushing, even stories have all shifted into new orders over time, evolving with each new requirement; the key one now is that Etta and Joni both get storytime together on our bed - something we used to do when Joni didn't have her own bed, and was in the cot Etta is now in.

A change that occurred a year or so ago was that ouyt of now where, gradually, we started to sing songs to Joni after the story. I think once it started out of a need to calm  her down, maybe due to her illness or something - Of course, we used to sing to her to get her down as a very young baby, but the songs dropped off for a while, but are now back and bigger than ever.

Each night we sing somewhere around eight to ten songs, all taken from what I've taken to start calling the playlist, and each night is a set list. It started with Skinna-ma-Rink, for which I don't know the real name, and moved to three songs, and now the full set. It takes around ten to fifteen minutes of course., and I wouldn't stop it for any reason.

Every so often a new set of songs gets added to the playlist and added then to the set list. For example, recently we've added four television theme songs (Paw Patrol, Puffin Rock, Mouk and Postman Pat) as well as the Green Bottles on the Wall classic. Connie introduced Five Little Ducks and Five Green and Speckled Frogs a few months back to great acclaim. I even started doing a "Slipknot style scremo" variant of the Duck song, much to everyone's amusement.

The one that got everyone excited was my introduction of what is called Daddy's Song, or better known as The Music Man (we've sneakily changed to The Music Woman, because of course we have). That is uproarious when adding odd things like bagpipes via Scotland the Brave and the triangle to the normal Piano and Trombone options.

Singing to your kids is a joy, and that's only matched when they start singing along with you at night; Joni's "Bababoo!" at the end of the Puffin Rock theme is brilliant. But the real proof of the pudding is when she just starts singing Daddy's Song randomly in the kitchen, apropos of nothing.

 

Versus the Mouse

When I was quite young we moved into a new family home a few streets away from our old one. It was a larger house and closer to my schools, and backed onto a Red Ash pitch (also known as a blaze) that was pretty harsh on your knees. It is now, 20 years later, a astroturf fullsize pitch complex for the local schools, but before that it was very much a low tech area. Next to this was a series of empty fields.

The fields were torn up and in it's place a massive new primary school was installed. I must have been six years old or there abouts, as I remember going to visit the school after it was opened - it basically had been built on the land that my primary school had as it's major playing fields. Today, my school is no more - merged into the newer school as a massive extension to house all the students it has amassed.

One consequence of this building work was to move a family or two of mice into my home for a while. The mouse, it was surmised, came into the house because of the distruption to their home in the field. My mum dad remember seeing mice running across the floor in the front room, the tiny creatures scurrying about looking for refuge in a home that wasn't theirs. My dad remembers having exterminators putting baited traps down and I remember the boxes all to well - I am sure that you could have still found a few of the boxes in the attic prior to it's last renovation ten years ago.

You'd think that living in Cumbria we'd have had mice issues before, but since coming back from Canada a family or two of field mice have moved into our garage. Coming in to find a raft of boxes and random stored items they made their home in a box. The first time we noticed there was an issue was Connie finding a tonne of droppings, and it was confirmed that we had a few in the house. So I popped out to Wilko and bought a raft of traps - a mix of live and classic kill snap traps - and I set about getting rid of them.

Two weeks later and 16 dead mice, I thought we'd got them. That's right - sixteen caught. What I found was putting peanut butter on the traps was giving me a 100% kill rate with what I started to call Old Faithful, a single snap trap that would kill every night.

There were some bumps along the way. I went down one morning to find a mouse, the only one that managed to make it in, alive in the live trap. I drove down the road a mile and let it free into a field, to live another day. The other harrowing tale was the morning I went down to find one dead in Old Faithful and... the other trap missing. I found it a few feet away with a still-alive mouse struggling to get away from me. I put it out of its misery humanely, but I felt terrible about it.

I discussed at length with Con the most humane way to deal with them, and it seemed that a snap kill trap was so instantaneous as to be as humane and maybe more so than a live trap. I didn't want to use the poisoned bait as that would have just moved the issue from the trap to a random hiding point.

I found their nest after I was sure I'd got them, and they'd just tore up a bit of paper and a poly bag and made a wee nest. It was harrowing to see them get smaller and smaller as the time went on, knowing I'd started taking out the young mice, but it was necessary.

One thing I realised later on was that to have got into the garage, a sealed fire room meaning there was no way into the rest of the house anyway, was there had to be a hole of sorts. I tore the garage apart trying to find it and found it in the fabric of the door. And then I realised quickly that my bait, that was ever so tasty, had actually been bringing the mice into the garage from the outside... to die.

So my 16 mice might have been a good chunk of the local mice populace from the outside.

The hole is now blocked and we're keeping an eye on things. I might have conquered the mice, for now.

Patreon for the Monday Graveyard

I've been presenting a podcast/radio show for the past three and a half years or so, and it's managed to reach 133 episodes in that time. I've got big plans for the future of the show, and even if you're not an avid listener, but a supporter of this blog, you could maybe pledge $1 an episode.

What is Patreon?

Patreon is a site that allows creators to be supported directly for their creation. In my case it's the podcast, which takes up a few hours each week and is hosted wonderfully on Mixcloud and here, on my blog. That in of it's self has been enough, but I want to expand the show a bit and move it into more ambitious circles. That's the goal of Patreon.

It is a platform (ugh, I hate that word, but it is better than "website") that gives me the chance to gather Patrons of the show, those who pledge to commit money to the show per week, and in turn get rewards back on top of the main show.

The Main Show will ALWAYS be free and available on the Mixcloud feed, this very site, and any other podcast apps.

But if you support the show, there are some cool perk to be had.

Why?

Well, as i said, I have some ambitions for the show, namely four of them really;

  1. Upload all the past shows to the podcast feed, and get it into iTunes.
  2. Expand the scope of the show to include new community aspects and a revitalised MG Mailer
  3. Return to doing the normal vocal voice shows, as before
  4. Invest in something called the MG24 - a 24/7 stream of all shows released chronologically

Some of these are further away than others; the MG24 is something that needs quite a bit of time and investment into, but number 2 is a good one; and it'll be starting next week.

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How?

The place to be is Patreon. Sign up there and you can see the "tiers" of payments and the rewards within. The one most people are interested in is the $5 teir for some reason; it unlocks two versions of the show, a non-vocal remix and the full voice show.

And if you can't that's fine; just listening is support enough. I am under to illusions; this is an experiment to see where the show can go and who can come along for the ride. You should come along too, if you want - even if you're not an avid listener.

The rewards are thus:

Graveyarder - $1 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 0 patrons

  • Sneak peek of upcoming show
  • Shout out on the website as backer and in the show
  • Access to the Patron-only feed

Gorgeous Graveyarder - $3 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 0 patrons

  • Access to patron-only content including out takes and tracks not played
  • Sneak peek of upcoming episodes
  • Email list for exclusive insight into the show
  • Shout out on the website as backer and in the show

Full Graveyarder - $5 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 1 patron

  • Your own exclusive artwork 
  • Suggest theme or songs for a show
  • Access to a new voice-free mix of the show
  • Plus all previous rewards

Producer Graveyarder - $30 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 0 of 5 patrons

  • You can do a full show of your own music or own selection produced by me
  • Plus all previous rewards

The Return of Gaming: The Nintendo Switch

In 2012 I wrote a series of posts that chronicled my favourite computer games "of all time". The reason I suggested at the time was that I was "over" gaming - my reasons were laid out in the first part of that series:

"...but the most important of all is that I don’t like the games being made anymore. They are not what I want to play, and not what I want to spend my money on, and as such I’ve fallen out of the loop. Also, the idea that games can only be played on one type of machine by one manufacturer doesn’t wash any more, and that’s annoying more than anything."

I thought to myself that I was over it. It had become a thing from my past. The games that were selling millions weren't my cup of tea, and the last really awesome game I enjoyed, Mass Effect 3, had soured everything about the series. Not even the promise of new Sonic games, new Shenmue games, or new Mass Effect games could get me interested in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Nothing was even remotely what I wanted - a console wedded to my television that I can't take with me seemed so backwards and... last century, it put me off dropping money on a system I knew wasn't right.

Then Nintendo announced the Switch. I bought a Wii back when everyone was buying Wiis and I was so critical of it only a few months afterwards - my blog post about it is, naturally, amusing reading, with all the over-wrought drama of someone exaggerating their ill-will towards something that they actually feel remorse about buying. Notice that I actually bought a Nintendo Wii on launch day (with Colin, who was buying one as part of this 21st birthday that all of us, his friends, had chipped in on) and promptly sold it to a close friend and his then-boyfriend. I regretted it a bit, but later didn't.

Nintendo replaced the Wii with the Wii U, a catastrophically poorly performing console with umpteen issues. I was interested in the Gamepad idea, but it was poorly built and poorly executed, feeling more like a Mega Drive 32X add-on rather than an all-new console.

The Switch, however, is totally different. It fits the bill perfectly. It plays the games I want - that new Sonic game I mentioned, plus Mario Kart, a favourite of Con's, as well as a host of other cool games. It also is portable. Like, really portable. It's basically a portable console that plugs into your telly. It's fucking awesome.

And then when the TV's free, I can hook it up and be ready to go. It's unlikely that, in my current life, that hours of hours of play sessions are on the cards, but playing the console when historically I've been dicking around on Twitter or Instagram is much more interesting - the Switch slots into my current life style fairly well.

So we will see how it pans out in the long run, but the ability to take the games away to play where I want to is exactly one of the criticisms I made at the current generation of consoles five years ago - I might not have said portability, but I was certainly thinking that "one machine one manufacturer" limits it to one TV. I'm not sure I'm fully back, but it's nice to be a consumer and have one of my wishes fulfilled.

Floods in Houston

When I first moved to Houston the first thing that really got me worried was the pamphlet laid out on the kitchen counter top that was blue and had nice wee swirly symbols on it, hidden under the leasing agents stuff about the keys and rules of the pool. I saw it the morning after I arrived, jet lagged and confused, drinking a coffee from the simple rations that the company had left in my cupboards, as I wondered what I was doing living in the States.

The pamphlet was "Hurricane Preparedness" and gave an overview of what to do if there was a hurricane and a mass evacuation. I mentioned this on Monday to my new coworkers and whom had looked after the previous exchanges, and they spoke about the earlier year, 2008, in hushed tones - Hurricane Ike had made landfall as a Cat 2 storm a few days after the exchanges had arrived and had put the windows in on their then apartment, as well has taking out the offices a bit as well.

I wondered aloud if there was a chance it'd happen in 2010, the year I was there, and they said yes - normally they come in two-year cycles, and 2008 was the last one, so 2010 was likely to have one.

A few weeks after I arrived in Texas, a huge storm did swoop in and I was glued to my television. The storm, Tropical Storm Hermine, dropped a lot of water on the city. I blogged about it here, with a video soundtracked to the most wistful Boards of Canada (that you should watch) I could muster, shows my complete astonishment at the amount of water thundering down onto my apartment. In the video, I comment how they had forecast for the storm 8 to 10 inches of rain, which was unreal.

Houston this past weekend has had around 50 inches in 48 hours.

The fallout from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey is quite incredible. I've made contact with friends who live there who are all okay thankfully, and those who are sharing on social media and as bewildered as you could imagine they can be. This isn't a small city, nor a small area, this is a city that is larger that some States with a population larger than that of the central belt of Scotland, and is an important cultural, commercial and engineering hub for almost all the US. Houston is a city that gets unnoticed by most from the UK, being "Texan" for better or worse, and ignored compared to the East and West coastal cities, but as somewhere I lived with Connie it's extremely close to our hearts and always will be, and to see it devastated quite literally is heart breaking.

The waters are yet to recede so we don't know the true extent of the damage, but it can only be assumed to be utterly disastrous. The area Con and I lived in, Eldridge Parkway, was under three feet of water, being right next to Buffalo Bayou and five minutes from the Barker Reservoir. We walked along the Bayou, sunned in the park, and it really feels strange to see it under water. What is even odder is that I randomly came across a video on Twitter of the flooding and recognised the street instantly, with shock.

With the flooding in Cockermouth in 2015 and Houston it really does bring home the change in climate that is happening - but the saddest thing is that it does the opposite for others. I hope that the recovery for the city is swift and strong - I know it will be, Texas is a strong state. Texas strong, indeed.