Hard work or just dumb luck?

Ridley: So after much agonising and practicing I’ve finally passed my driving test. I’d never failed anything before I’d started to learn to drive (I’ve comforted myself with the fact my town has an abnormally high failure rate).

This test was my third and (I’d hoped) my final attempt. The question is, was it the hard work or luck of the draw that had me succeed this time? There are all sorts of stories of people failing one day, applying for another test only a few weeks later and with no extra practicing, passing with, sometimes, the very same instructor. While there was a definite improvement in my driving skills since the last two times I’d attempted it, there were other reasons I think that I might have passed.

I had applied willy nilly for my last two tests, letting the testing centre decide when and where I needed to show up and drive. For this last attempt I decided to listen to the geeky scientist within me and left as little as possible to chance. Narrowing the perimeters (told you, geeky science girl), I insisted I could only do the test in the morning (my last two had been early afternoon, when the town got very busy) it had to be early in the week and near the start of the month (if it is to be believed, there are failure quotas, so at the start of both the week and month, they wouldn’t have to worry about meeting them yet) and I’d ensured that it would be during the summer time (no schools open and all that goes with it: heavy traffic, lollypop ladies leaping out at every chance they get, children darting about and women with baby occupied buggies plowing across pedestrian crossings without a moments notice, aka: Hell, when you’re doing a driving test and your “Reaction to Hazards” boxed will be ticked a hundred times over).

I had a lesson before the test (always do this, I didn’t before, but it’s a great idea!) so I was waiting in the car park of the test centre for it to open. Peering in my side mirror at a car pulling up behind me, my heart sank when I saw what tester turned up for work. He was the guy who’d failed me so miserably the previous time. He disappeared off to get a coffee from the shop and I was praying he wasn’t a grumpy morning person.

When I went in it seemed like he was in a good mood, normally they don’t talk to you except to tell you to do things or explain instructions. So I was pleasantly surprised when a single sentence commenting on the good weather was thrown out.

The roads were lovely and quiet when I did the test. The only times I got marks against me was when one of the traffic lights turned yellow too quickly (and I kept going-baaad idea) and then when some mad yoke pulled out in front of me too quickly from a side road that I was trying to turn into (and to be fair, I think I was distracted as I was just two minutes from the end of the test, and the words ‘Almost finished, almost finished, keep it together’ were flying through my head over and over again.) When i went into the centre, he kept me guessing as to whether I’d passed. He got me to sign a form and I thought  ‘This hasn’t happen before, this could be good!’  and then I read the top of the piece of paper which had ‘Certificate of Competency’ on it. Once he congratulated me on passing, he surprised me by chatting away and he was actually quite nice.

Not an hour or two later, I was driving through town with my brother and it was very busy. And I just started to catalogue the various times I would have gotten marks against me and the amount of times I probably would have failed out right. There were many. My brother thought I was crazy when I’d randomly shout ‘mark!’ and ‘fail!’ Which got me thinking. I was the same driver, with the same experience but depending on the time of the day my passing abilities were very different.

Overall consensus, once you reach a certain level of being able to drive, the rest is pure dumb luck and an ability to avoid the gobshites around you who can’t drive but still will cost you marks!

Urban Fantasy

Latimer: It’s hard to be average and ‘normal’.

It’s sort of boring. Scratch that, it is boring. However, I’m not the sort who’s always unhappy about that fact. Because to be fair, life ain’t so bad; when all’s said and done and you’re healthy and content, the fact that there aren’t any monsters or mystical stuff outside your door doesn’t really matter, it’s more annoying that there isn’t than depressing.

But that doesn’t stop the mind from wondering what it would be like if there was a world beneath the everyday one. I’m talking vampires and werewolves and all that stuff that humanity has always had a morbid fascination with.

We might consider ourselves in this day and age enlightened and above the flights of fancy of yesteryear, but that’s not really the case. We do still think about magic and monsters. Hell, there’s still religion isn’t there- angels and demons? So, we dream there’s a divine overseeing force watching over us, because it’s what we want to believe. If that force takes the form of God or vampires and fairies, what’s the real difference?

I like thinking about the ‘world beneath ours’… I don’t believe it’s there, but the imagining is half the fun for me. I like to picture what it would be like to turn the corner and see the unseen- to be told the great secret and be let into the mysterious world beyond this world.

And I think there’s lots of people like that. And that’s why we have Urban Fantasy on the up and up lately. Well, it’s only recently I’ve come across the term ‘Urban Fantasy’ or UF to describe a genre of books- though possibly we are more likely to see it described as ‘paranormal romance’… hmm, I don’t like to hang around the bookshelves in shops that describe it in this way! Bad marketing people; it sort of cheapens the stories to be classified in this way!

Urban Fantasy has peaked my interest lately.

I guess though, it’s not a lie to say it’s Twilight’s doing that True Blood and co. are on our screens and that the bookshelves are now awash with UF.

 It’s like there’s a special guideline authors of UF must follow; a girl, not special, finds out she’s special, meets vampire, meets werewolf and them comes the secret supernatural community wherein she meets fairies, demons, angels etc!

Sounds like I have a problem with this? Ah-ha, no, I don’t. This is the bedrock of UF.

It’s just I’m never fulfilled by it. It seems the idea is more perfect that what people deliver. Some worlds have been good (I really enjoyed the Chloe Saunders books Kelley Armstrong wrote)

But I find myself still looking for that good one… TV show or book I don’t mind.

So, where did I start with Urban Fantasy? Well, many years ago with Buffy and Angel. That was probably the start-proper for most people. I adored Buffy and Angel. But even they failed to deliver a good ending, leaving fans idling on what might have been but never was.

Then came Supernatural…

Now this is a funny one; it’s two brothers for a start, with a mixed up relationship with their missing father… and for me, I like mixed up relationships with families in books, but there was no ‘love’ in this, no women…. and I thought- that’s not really what I want; I need a relationship damn it! And I let Supernatural go.

Never watched it when it started…. BUT years later I came back to it and I was blown away!

It is the best. Better than Buffy or Angel at their height. I love Sam and Dean (gorgeous of course but as characters as well). I love sharp-talking Bobby and the Impala (yeah, even the car becomes a character in it’s own right). 

The whole show is witty, cool, charming, depressing, moving- everything you want! Even the soundtrack is cool, with classical rock songs in every episode. It has demons, ghosts and gods and all sorts of things that go bump in the night. But mostly it has this great brother-relationship between Sam and Dean. Even the way the show is shot makes it look cold and gritty. There never seems to be any bright colours. It’s always blues and greys.

I love this show. And I find that every time a ‘woman’ comes into the boy’s life I want her out of it! I think to myself ‘this isn’t for girls! This is just the boys! Get out woman!’ It’s funny how you don’t need the relationship in this one, just the Urban Fantasy.

Supernatural is by far the best.

That said my interest in True Blood was peaked when it came out. And whoooh, what a disappointment that was!

Basically it descends pretty fast into gratuitous sex-scenes and there’s hardly a thing to like about anyone anymore.

Eric Northman is most certainly the only reason I watch it.

Alexander Skarsgård is a beautiful man. But…. well, maybe he is actually a good actor, but in True Blood I find his accent (whatever he’s putting on because I know he’s Swedish, but the accent must be American via the moon via Sweden) weird and off-putting and his acting unbelievable. 

Still he is beautiful and I know the character is bad and devilish and yummy so I overlook the portrayal.

Bill is an utter joke, his acting is bad and the character is just so ‘blaaah’.

Sookie is annoying (though Anna Pacquin can act).

Vinnie from Home and Away plays Jason Stackhouse- he has changed from his ‘Summer Bay’ days; my word has he!

He looks great and sounds completely American. In fact I didn’t even know him at first; very unlike me. I notice the ex-Home and Away crowd popping up here and there on American TV shows. Anyway, Vinnie is amazing in True Blood. He’s a great actor and actually I like the Jason character (at least his sex scenes serve a purpose illustrating his feckless character)- but it’s not like he can hold the show on his own, it’d be too much of a struggle to make up for everyone else!  

True Blood is a funny one. I don’t like it, but I still watch it. I don’t know why. I keep up-to-date with it- but I fast-forward through ALOT of it. I think it’s probably loss of Supernatural. Which won’t be back until September.

Has True Blood just caught the people looking for a summer boredom-UF fix? In me, I think it has.

This brings me onto another UF book series turned TV. I’m late to these. I know. It’s not that I don’t know they’re there, it’s just I keep them on the periphery until they do something to peak my interest.

Here enter the Vampire Diaries…. and what lured me in? Isn’t it always a bad-boy… Damon Salvatore!

So… I got the general idea of it- two vampire brothers fighting over the human girl with a mysterious family history- nuff-said, I’m in!

And so, I settled down and munched my way through the 1st series.

And I really enjoyed it. I’m not saying it’s obsession worthy, it’s not without its flaws, but I’d easily overlook the small hic-ups, because it reminds me of early season-Buffy (the last seasons were just a joke). The strange town protecting itself against the vampire threat that none of the average folk know about- only the overseeing forces…

The vampires are old school, blood suckers as well. Monsters, the way they should be (mostly). There’s gore and a certain amount of the viewer feeling being a vampire is not a good thing. A nice touch here is that the Salvatore brothers have enchanted rings that mean they can go out in the daylight. It gives an added joy to see the daytime with the vampires as opposed to having to leave them to the night.

It’s set in an American town called ‘Mystic Falls’ (what a name, nice) and it’s very picturesque… because of Supernatural and shows where people live or pass through (regularly) these, woodland/town/village places in America, I’m left thinking ‘is this what it’s like in the ‘country’ in America?’ and ‘I want to see it’. There’s something nice and quaint about the town that’s getting harassed by monsters. I like it.

A lot of problems come from a bad leading lady. Elena is mouthy, but she’s not stupid and she works things out pretty quickly all by herself. So, yeah she’s a good enough character. They’re never perfect. Could I say there’s one I love- no, not really, but I can name plenty I dislike (Sookie, Anita Blake, Cassandra Palmer, Elena the werewolf from Kelley Armstrong’s books and Bella Swan).

So if I don’t hate, I like well-enough- I like Elena.

Her friends have secrets, her family is hiding things. Her town has known misfortune of the vampiric sort before… hmm, interesting right?

So let’s look at our leading men shall we? I’m wondering why is Damon so much more handsome than Stefan?

Is this a sign (haha). She’ll end up with him by the end (not because he’s better looking though- if Elena/or we, meet him first she’ll end up with him- factoid (it’s an unspoken rule)- did she meet him first in the books I wonder? I’ll never read them, so I’ll just go by the TV show)… mark my words… Damon is the troubled soul, he needs her more.

The actor that plays him has amazing eyes (stunning is the word! Unnatural!)… I won’t get into that though, it cheapens the musing to harp on about the man (he’s lovely… mmmm…. yummers).

As a character, Damon is as bad as they come (bad as in evil… well, he DOES kill people, many and without a second thought). He’s conflicted and caught up in his past. But his character evolves and the actor that plays him does a fine job at playing a cocky bastard. Damon reminds me of Dean from Supernatural (and I adore Dean). They have the same sort of rock-devil-may-care attitude. And younger brother complexs I guess.

Okay, The Vampire Diaries isn’t perfect. But it’s comes worlds closer to it than the likes of True Blood. I’m looking forward to the next series basically. It was enjoyable. Young and fresh and yeah the backdrop is a lot ‘nicer’ than that of True Blood.

It’s taking some time for the good Urban Fantasy to rise above the rest of the crap. But maybe it’s a case of getting back to basics… get back to ground roots early-Buffy-style.

Why do we have to be subjected to the porn without plot? Come on, people. It’s nice to have a bit (don’t get me wrong), but too much really leaves a bad after taste in the psyche!

Nice is for biscuits

Ridley: It’s good that Latimer has a Rickey and Karl and Steven outlet now (see her post below!). I have at times I’ll admit zoned out on that score and stopped listening. But to be fair, while I was never as big a fan of them as her, she is right they are quite funny, esp Karl. Though I am more of a Billy fan. Oh to meet Billy Connolly…. I think my sides would split! Stephen’s Day in our house is eating the last of the tin of Rose’s chocolates and watching the latest Billy DVD you’d gotten for Christmas!

Never trust a man, who when left alone with a tea cosey… Doesn’t try it on.”

And if you don’t know who he is, for shame!! Get thee to youtube and watch him now! Though my dad does tell a tall tale that he met him once in Boston (as in in America) when Billy was only starting out over there and doing small gigs (would have been big enough over here in Ireland/Scotland). Supposedly Billy told him and a work mate of dad’s to come along to his gig the next evening, but Dad wasn’t able to go in the end cause he had to look after us (my brother and I, little wee toddlers we would have been at the time!) I think even now in a way he’s still disappointed he couldn’t go, I feel kinda guilty for that you know! And it’s not like we’ll get to see a gig of his any time soon, when he last came to Ireland, his tickets sold out in minutes. Ah well.

I also think that Bill Bailey (Latimer and I are going to a gig of his soon, very excit-sming!!!) Tommy Tiernan (and we’ll add in Hector of course!) Dara Ó Briain and Dylan Moran are hilarious too (I’ll stop now, you probably don’t want a running list of names!)

Now as Latimer has already told you, I was in Galway this weekend. T’was good crack altogether. And a pity Lat couldn’t come but there will be a next time! The Galway Races were on, we were there for the tail end of it all. We had a nice night out on the town. They’d fenced off parts of Shop Street (the main street) so it was like being outside in massive beer courtyard/garden. Some of the pubs were selling to customers from their front windows cause they were so packed inside, no one could get in. That was the mentalness of the nighttime. Earlier in the day though it was extremely relaxing, we spent it in Spiddal!

It’s only about 25 minute drive from Galway itself. We ate fish and chips and had a ramble on the beaches out there, while trying to practice our Irish- Bhí sé go h-iontach ar fad! (It was great altogether.) Very peaceful setting. There was total silence, you could hear the sail flapping on one of the little boats and a gull crying overhead. There was one little stone pathway overgrown with plants and flowers that we weren’t allowed go down (a big gate with a big paddlock told us No!) It was just off the main walkway, it ran alongside a narrow river which dipped into small rapids further down and flowed out into the sea. I’ve since decided that if ever a little walkway lead to a fairie glade, it was that one! I wish I’d taken a picture, but I was too busy enjoying it. I think sometimes, if you’re stuck behind a camera lense, you miss too much of what you’ve come to see in the first place. Why take photos to enjoy it later, when you should just be in the moment and enjoy it then? Though I’m all for photo taking after the contemplating!

Skipping forward after our day rambling and after a mad night on the tiles, we had breakfast rolls the next morning at the Spanish Arch (at the Claddagh) and counted the swans, well I did, I stopped at 25 when it got dangerous. I’d decided to stop leaning forward too near the water for fear of me falling in on top of them and the ducks, but we did sit with our feet dangling percariously over the edge!  Just call me Danger Mouse!

I have to say standing on the beach at Spiddal (though I’ve since heard from a reliable and informative source there’s way better beaches in West Cork! A place I’ve yet to visit, sad that I’ve seen so little of my own country) but even though of course there were other people round on the lovely white sand, because it was so peaceful, I felt very Monty Hall-esque (anyone watch his shows? On BBC? I love them!! There’s Monty Hall’s Great Escape to Beechcomber cottage and there’s the Great Hebridean Escape, both with Reuben, his gorg black dog!)

Anywhosie, one of my friends got a ‘pensive’ photo of me gazing out across the sea at County Clare. I was teased for my brooding expression for quite sometime afterwards and they were right, I wasn’t pondering the problems of the world, I think I was wondering how long would it take to swim from the beach to Clare. And how cold, in terms of iceberg cold, the water was.

After much thinking, my answers were ‘a long time’ and ‘freezing with small ice cubes’ cold.

Also, my new saying that I picked up in funky Galway (read stole) is ‘Nice is for biscuits…’ and I add  ‘And you know what happens to them, they get eaten!’

Mind ramble

Ridley: Riddle me this and riddle me that! Why is it, when you have no holidays or days off coming up you can always think of a hundred different things to do other than working or studying or finishing a deadline for some project and yet the minute you get a bit time off, you can’t seem to remember any of these things!! What’s up with that? I only ever seem to be able to remember them about an hour before I go to bed on my last day off. So instead of doing all the no doubt exciting things I’ve erased from my mind, I spend a seriously unhealthy amount of time on daft.ie (I just came from there to here, there’s a lovely manor house for sale near me, with a massive expanse of acres and beautiful oak paneling, for many many euro *sigh* One day, maybe!) or watching those housey shows like Location Location Location. Maybe it’s the harmless peeping tom in me, always wondering what life is like in other people’s homes. I think it’d be fun if you could pop into someone elses life for a bit. Would you experience life through similar eyes? What would it be like to be a diver or a gymnast or a stockbroker or an engineer or a bus driver or a professional singer (you get the idea). Some people have such fascinating stories really. I love hearing them. A lot of them for me betimes seem to involve travelling though to be fair. I do want to see the world! Sitting on the bus or train is a great place to chat to people or overhear things-then when you never get the full story (and there’s always a certain amount of disappointment when you don’t!), let your imagination run wild instead and finish it yourself! I got chatting to one lady who was telling me about living in China for three years, another said her daughter and herself were off to Crete as they were both studying ancient history and had a holiday booked to tour the historic sites with a local historian. I spoke with another person who was a nurse, but instead of just hospitals (which is what springs to mind!), she also worked on film sets, tending to the first aid needs of the actors….

You know sometimes I get so frustrated! There just seems to be so many options available to us these days- things we can be or do and places we can go. It’s like we’re pulled in million different directions and we never know which way to go, so we just stay where we are, letting life push us where it will, instead of making a decision and taking that step forward to where we want to be. (Poor Latimer, she gets this spiel off me quite often these days!)

So maybe you should watch this space. I might just slip on a pair of beautiful high heels and take those few steps forward! I wonder where I’ll end up?