Thursday, June 29, 2006

No LARPing Matter...

I have a confession to make.

I'm a roleplayer.

I voluntarily choose to spend my Friday nights in a room with 14 or so other people(mostly guys), pretending to be someone else.

I've been a samurai, a wizard, a vigilante in mech armour, a pirate, a priestess of the god of magic, a woman who evolved from dogs, a fighter, a pixie, a vampire, a werewolf, an elf, a prostitute, a drug addict, a cartoon kangaroo with a pouch which contained an almost infinite number of items (some of which were larger than she was).

Friday night games are quite tame. We describe what our characters are doing and saying and roll dice to see if we succeed or not.

But I have also ventured further into this dark world and become involved with LARP. LARP (pronounced larp, to rhyme with harp) involves you acting as your character. This usually means you dress up and speak like them, perform all of their actions, and if necessary fight each other with rubber weapons or toy guns. It's so much fun.

The biggest LARP in the UK is a fantasy game run by the Lorien Trust. Their main event is The Gathering which runs over a weekend in August, and is attended by up to 3500 players. I don't go to LT events anymore (for various reasons) but I have a funny story relating to them which I'd like to share with you.

The LT events are held in a little village called Spondon, which is near Derby. Of course, all that running around in armour and casting spells is thirsty work, and players often need to go into the village to buy more alcohol (sometimes even food). The locals are used to the mad people in costume by now, and don't bat an eyelid when a guy in chainmail with a huge rubber sword goes into a shop for a case of beer and a Pot Noodle.

A friend of mine gave me a lift to the shop one time - I was in a long red flowing dress with a sword and a bow on my back, with pointy elf ears and James was dressed as a troll, green makeup, prosthetic horns, padding, scary contacts, huge axe, the lot. We were perusing the drinks aisle when I noticed a small boy of about 3 or 4 staring at us. I smiled at him and he looked a bit scared. Then he pulled at his mum's skirt and pointed to us.

"Mummy, there's a monster!" Obviously not used to this roleplayer thing.

Mum glances over. Obviously used to this roleplayer thing. Without missing a beat she replies calmly,

"Don't worry son. Even monsters have to shop."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bean and Latin

When I was a kid, the TV show Mr Bean was compulsary viewing in our house.

We all loved it, the daft facial expressions, the novel way of solving problems, the interactions with other people and the much-abused Teddy, and the Mini, the undoubted comic genius that is Mr Atkinson. Even my mum, known in our family as She Who Has No Sense of Humour, was known to crack a smile at particularly funny moments. And as for my dad and younger brother, they'd regularly laugh until they cried. We got all the videos one Christmas, and spent the rest of the holiday watching them over and over. One of the few programmes I remember we all approved of.

So why this post? Bear with me.

I was listening to a CD yesterday, one of my prized possessions, the recording of In Paradisum, my first concert with Socii Cantorum and the Ladies' Choir back in October. Mostly this was Fauré's Requiem and Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, but we did other pieces as well, including Bruckner's beautiful Locus Iste (you can listen to our recording of this piece and some others at my Multipy site).

I've played the CD hundreds of times because every piece on there is so wonderful to sing - I often use it to practice and warm up. Poor Michael is probably sick to the back teeth of it by now, but he doesn't say anything, bless him.

Anyway, back to the point. After a few times of hearing it, Michael commented that Locus Iste sounds a bit like the theme tune from Mr Bean. And he's right, the first couple of notes do indeed closely resemble it.

I remembered this last night, and decided to find out what the song was that was used as the theme tune - so today I started with Wikipedia and this is what I found.

Mr. Bean is unusual amongst comedy series in featuring a choral theme tune, written by Howard Goodall and performed by the Choir of Southwark Cathedral. The words sung during the title sequences are in Latin:
  • Ecce homo qui est faba – "Behold the man who is a bean" (sung at beginning)
  • Finis partis primae – "End of part one" (sung before the commercial break)
    Pars secunda – "Part two" (sung after the commercial break)
  • Vale homo qui est faba – "Farewell, man who is a bean" (sung at end)

That really is the coolest thing I've seen today. I'm fascinated by Latin anyway, but I'm very impressed and delighted that the "church music" I remember from the programmes actually means something meaningful within the context.

I also love the idea of using a Latin choral piece to express something other than some kind of religious sentiment. Like how cool would it be to have your shopping list sung in Latin, the instuctions for assembling a piece of flat-packed furniture, or maybe your old school report? Everything sounds better in Latin!

It almost inspires me to learn Latin specifically so I can write choral pieces about mundane things.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A little about me, for new people

Just a few bits of info about me, so you new people can get to know me a bit better. In no particular order.

  • I'm 26, blue/grey eyes, brown hair, glasses, about 190lb, 5'6". I'm trying to lose about 40lb.
  • My birthday is November 13th, so I'm a Scorpio (with Virgo rising). I do sort of fit the description.
  • I'm a student at the University of Sheffield, England. I'm reading psychology, but have enjoyed taking classes in ecology, genetics, and evolution. My particular interests are evoltionary psychology and behavioural genetics. I'm currently deferring my second semester first year exams until August, as I missed a lot of classes due to illness.
  • My health is not the best - I have Type 2 diabetes, essential hypertension and fibromyalgia. The fibro causes fatigue, muscle/joint pain, impaired cognitive function, sleep disturbance and occasional low mood, but it's not really bad, and I'm pretty much okay most of the time.
  • I live with my boyfriend Michael in Chesterfield. We've been together for 4 years. We don't have kids, and don't plan to have any. We've talked about getting married when I graduate.
  • I have a black Labrador called Summer, two guinea pigs (Jack and Stan), two chinchillas (Ted and Dougal) and five giant African Land Snails.
  • Last autumn I rescued three wild hedgehogs which were too small to survive hibernation. Melissa unfortunatley died. Rosemary had to have an operation to amputate her back leg which had been partly bitten off by another animal - she recovered well and recently escaped from her pen in the garden. I didn't want to release her because of her disability, but obviously she had other ideas! Basil was very sick but pulled through and will be released very soon. Most nights I watch hogs and other animals on people's webcams all around the country.
  • This year I've started birdwatching, and I'm really enjoying it despite not really knowing much about birds and being terrible at identifying them. I also feed the birds in my garden.
  • Although I'm a scientist at heart, I like to be creative too. Occasionally I write poetry and short stories, and I knit (but only small things, I get bored easily) and sew. I love to cook and bake and I spend a lot of time reading.
  • I have a 21-year-old brother who's studying at the University of Derby, also reading psychology (copycat!). We get on well, even though he's much cooler than me.
  • I sing with the University of Sheffield Singer's Society (SingSoc), in the main chamber choir, the smaller Socii Cantorum, and the even smaller Ladies' Choir. I'm an alto, but occasionally sing tenor when I fancy a change. At the moment I'm working hard on my sight-reading, as it's not my strong point. I'd like to get a singing teacher but at the moment I can't really afford it. I really love to sing.
  • A couple of weeks ago I was part of The People's Choir, a project which was organised for a television documentry of the same name. 800 people turned up to learn, rehearse and record Tallis's impressive 40-part Spem in Alium in a single day. It was incredible, one of the best experiences of my life, and we sounded absolutely stunning. The programme will be broadcast in the autumn.

Enough for now I think!

Free will - my take

A little over a year ago, I was coming to the end of my one year A Level psychology course (for those not in the know, an A Level usually takes 2 years).

One of the papers we took was called "Debates" - we had to study the history of four debates relevant to psychology, and be able to argue both sides scientifically and critically. The four debates were "Nature/Nurture", "Psychology as Science", "Reductionism" and "Free Will vs Determinism".

And reading Responsibility inCharlie's blog reminded me of the discussion we had in class about free will.

I ventured the opinion that we always have free will, which was not popular with either my teacher or my classmates. My teacher asked me to consider a situation of a bank cashier during a robbery, someone holding a gun in her face and telling her to put all the money in the bag. Does the cashier have any free will at this point? Is she fully in control of her actions, or are they determined by the situation?

I maintained that yes, the cashier does have a choice. She can put the money in the bag, or she can take the chance of getting shot.

And I still believe it. I'm not denying that the situation, genetics, past experiences, etc., can all have a powerful influence on our behaviour, but in the end we make our own decisions and we pick whatever we think is the best choice in light of the information we have.

For me, having an "addictive personality" or having a gun to your head (sometimes they seem like one and the same thing) does not control your behaviour, it biases your decision towards a particular course of action. In this case, the threaten of violence makes you much more likely to comply with the gunman's request.

You have a choice of what to do in every situation. It may be extremely hard (in fact seem almost impossible) to do the "right" thing in light of addiction, or threat, or whatever, but "I can't help it" is never a defence.

It may be a shitty choice, but it's still a choice.

Feel free to comment, tell me I'm talking crap, or whatever - there isn't a definitive right or wrong answer here and I know for a fact there are holes in my argument. What do you think?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Dreams. Damn them.

I had a bad night Saturday. Went to bed about 2am, woke at 5 when the birds started and didn't get back to sleep for a good hour. When I did my sleep was very unsettled, tossing and turning and waking up often - I eventually got up about noon feeling like crap, and weirded out by some fucked-up dreams.

More than anything it freaks me out that my dreams are so detailed.

One that I remember involved me being asked questions by a room of people and trying very hard to answer them in the right way. It seemed I did answer them properly, as they looked pleased, and someone started to spray me with something that slowly paralysed me over a few minutes - it got more and difficult to breathe and move and I was trying to plead with them to stop but I never finished the sentence. Once I was fully paralysed the spray dried to a kind of plastic seal which covered me like I was shrink-wrapped, and someone told me that I was exactly the right kind of person and that I'd be used as food for the Army soldiers who were fighting a war, as people are a cheap supply of meat for their pre-packaged dinners. Then I was cooked. I' not sure why I was still alive, and mercifully I wasn't aware of pain, but I watched as the cooked meat from my thighs was removed and cut up. I'm also pretty sure Michael was there and knew what was happening, but of course he couldn't do anything about it as there was no way to stop these guys, they'd have just cooked him too if he'd shown any signs of disapproval.

Just before all this happened there were other incidents where I was misinterpreted and the people I was with became annoyed at me and I didn't know why. Small bad things were happening to me and they weren't at all sympathetic, almost as if they thought I deserved what I got, and made no attempt to comfort or help me. And later on, after the cooking bit, I had the same dream again but this time I saw what they had seen, and their responses were perfectly rational in the context of how they'd experienced the events - it did look to them like everything was my fault.It isn't only the content of my dreams (and the acccompanying thoughts about how messed up my head must be to produce something like that), but the complicated nature of them also weirds me out - it surely can't be normal to dream the same events from different perspectives, it was like a clever film. Dreams aren't meant to be so involved and structured and intricate.

When I wake up from stuff like that, it is a bit like when you've seen one of those really good horrow films that sticks in the back of your mind for days - I don't just mean when you jump every time you catch something move in the corner of your eye or lie in bed scared that that creaky noise is the monster coming to get you, I mean when the horrible ideas you've been exposed to continue to squirm away in your head and your belly - it's an actual physical feeling that something's not right, and now you know about it you've lost another little bit of innocence, another piece of your soul, another locked box is thrown into the sweet clean well of your mind where it leaks and poisons the water (to steal a metaphor from Stephen King), and the world will never seem quite as shiny and pretty again.

Needless to say, this makes me feel pretty weird, and it's not a nice feeling. It will take me days to get back to my "normal" state of mind. With my past history I suppose it would be easy to chalk all this up to depression, but I don't feel depressed. I feel what I've come to think of as "out of it".

Anyway, as often happens, the aftermath of this dreaming session was that as late evening approached I felt more and more uneasy, and more and more awake. Why? Because I didn't want to go to sleep.

I decided to read for a while until I felt sleepy. At 5am I gave up on the sleepy part and went to bed anyway, because I was tired (which is completely independent of sleepy, as any good insomniac will tell you). An hour and a half later I finally dozed off after marvelling about how uncomfortable my pillows are when I can't sleep, shocking myself when the thought of suicide momentarily fluttered across my mind (so not serious, it was immediately dismissed and I feel no inclination towards that course of action at all, so please don't worry), and deciding that 5-6am is always the time when I feel the most shit (circadian rhythms at their lowest ebb I guess). I woke at 12, with clear memories of dreams that although not on a par with Saturday night at all, still left me with a sense of unease.

I know that dreams are just dreams and don't necessarily mean anything, but my gut doesn't listen to such nonsense as logic and common sense.

Today I continue to be unsettled and vaguely unhappy and a little frustated. What I can't work out is this: am I not feeling great because of the dreams, or am I dreaming like that because I don't feel great?


I've decided that I want a second blog. My LiveJournal blog will continue as usual, documenting my day-to-day existance in all its mind-numbing glory.

This one will be reserved for "special" thoughts. Because to be honest, some of the stuff I usually blog is quite interesting and some, frankly, isn't - this way means that those of you who are interested in the more mundane can get your Annie fix over there, and those who require a little more stimulation of one kind or another can get it here.

Some posts will probably appear in both.