The Days Out That Didn’t Happen

Research claims that the optimal amount of holiday time is eight days. Just over a week away  is the perfect time frame to improve your mood and recharge you for work again. Defying science I recently found myself with twelve free days. Dividing my time between Stockholm and Manchester, I intended to develop my interests in art and design, returning to my colleagues as a matured individual. Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan because of a conspiracy to close all museums and galleries when I wanted to visit. The twelve days past and I only managed to browse one museum. However, I can still dream and write up a list of my desired days out, pretending I occupied each venue.

Färgfabriken

Established in its current incarnation in 1995 Färgfabriken is a gallery dedicated to art, architecture and urban planning. The word ‘fabrik’ translates from Swedish as factory, a fitting title that reflects the building’s original industrial purpose when built in 1889. Located in Liljehomen it would have been a perfect afternoon’s exploration. Usually, I take the airport bus straight to the area before heading to ICA for supplies. Not only is the location convenient for myself but the focus on art reflects my interests. On the other hand, architecture and urban planning are fresh realms for my imagination. I usually prefer to explore design through objects as opposed to buildings, so the opportunity to develop an interest in a new medium is intriguing. Alas, the gallery is currently closed for rehanging. Exhibitions don’t reopen until the end of January but the cafe is running still. It’s disappointing that i haven’t seen something so close to where I normally reside. However, the delay peaks my interest further and Färgfabriken is a must visit next year.

Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art

The CFCCA can be found in Manchester’s Northern quarter and promised to be the beginning to my Monday trawl of the city’s galleries. My plan was to peruse the CFCCA, grab some lunch with my friend and finish the day browsing the University’s collection. However, a more thorough search of CFCCA website would have revealed that the gallery isn’t open on Mondays. This left a hole in the morning’s plans and the Christmas market lured us in with mulled wine. Time passed and the University’s gallery had the dropped for the Manchester gallery, bowling and of course more wine.

It’s disappointing to have attempted to visit the CFCCA on a day when it wasn’t accessible. Their collection was alluring due to complexity of modern Chinese culture. I was hoping to examine expressions that detailed existence from such an influential country. With the largest population the breadth of creation must surely be far reaching. Similarly, the experiences of Native Chinese artists compared with those living abroad or children of immigrants provides even richer layers and opportunities for artistic expression.

Despite the set back the day wasn’t lost. Manchester gallery is never disappointing and I enjoyed introducing my friend to Pre-Raphaelite painting. It’s a good feeling to repeat a gallery and reacquaint yourself with your favourite paintings. The gallery appears to have taken Giacometti Alberto’s portrait of  his mother out of circulation. It’s a piece I’m particularly fond of and slightly saddened to see it gone. Thankfully there are still copies online. The following one in courtesy of Manchester gallery’s website.

Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska)

Stockholm’s Östasiatiska  was my second opportunity to absorb Asian culture. I can’t explain why I’m heavily attracted to East Asian art but I know it always has me enthralled. Examining simple tea sets and art prints as well as clothing and sculpture   always enjoyable. With a free day I decided that Östasiatiska would be a perfect ending to this month’s Stockholm visit. The museum offers an exploration of Korean, Japanese and Chinese arts. These range from traditional Korean furniture and tea ceremony sets to a sculpture gallery. After absorbing all the artifacts there’s a cafe that even sells flower tea. If there was a tick list for an ideal afternoon then Östasiatiska potentially gets full marks.

Unlike the galleries this museum was open during my visit. My issue was trying to locate the building. It’s situated in Skeppsholmen along with several other museums worth wandering. In truth, I have been to the island several times but this time I got off at the wrong tube station and became lost. With evening drawing in and evening plans looming I decided the destination was a lost cause. I found myself in the national library again. Ideally, I would have preferred to traverse new knowledge but the library is a beautiful , circular building worth revisiting. Just like galleries and museums, libraries always provide a moment of calm and culture against the calamity of the city outside.

 

 

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Doing Battle with the ‘D’ Key

I’ve had my laptop for about five years. It was a gift for when I went to university. The machine has survived my clumsy care surprisingly well. I’ve smashed the screen once, split tea, water and pizza on it as well. The right hand corner is now murky from a coco cola attack. Despite the neglect the device functions well and doesn’t want to retire to the dustbin just yet. I’m uncertain if this computer or the last McDonalds burger meal in Iceland will last longer. However, although the technology is than the Greek economy it does have a single flaw: The D key is jammed.

The problem started about a year ago, after I last spilled a drink onto it. In an effort at recovery I removed as many detachable parts as possible. During this attempt something became lodged in the keyboard and that has become impossible to shift. Typing now induces the same pain as beginner guitar lessons. I’m waiting on the day my fingers adjust to the required shape and pressure of the letter. This evolution appears to be taking the usual time it takes species to adapt. By the time my digits have accustom themselves to the new environment global warming will have destroyed most of the habitable planet.

There are a few things I’ve tried in order to rectify the issue. Firstly, I endeavored to copy and paste every d I used. This technique inhibited the flow of writing too much. The time taken to reach down the keyboard and click paste felt longer than the extra pressure required. Next, I pretended that the key didn’t exist. I typed as usual, skipping the letter and ignoring the its place in the English language. At the end of the paragraph I went back and auto-corrected every misspelled word. This is harder to accomplish than it would appear. You have to teach yourself how to spell fundamental words incorrectly. I wouldn’t recommend this method because at best it is vexing and at worse you may regress to toddler level spelling.

The solution to the problem is to either dislodge the key and remove the blockage or completely replace the keyboard. I have a replacement already. In fact, I’ve had a new set of keys for nearly twelve months. Unfortunately, I don’t trust myself with a delicate procedure after the accidents I’ve already inflicted on the machine. The alternative is to let somebody else do the operation but that requires sacrificing my favourite piece of technology for a few hours. Instead, I’ll keep the tricky key, take extra care and be grateful for something as mundane as the letter D.

 

Pokemon Ultra Sun: Gen VII and the Growth of the Games

It has taken me six days to complete Pokemon Ultra Sun. I would have finished sooner if I wasn’t an adult and had to work in between playing. Regardless, I’m content with the time sunk into the Pokemon company’s latest title because I believe it is their best offering yet. In fact, I am grateful to be playing the game later in life as I have been able to play most of the other titles as well. This has allowed me to watch the series develop and mature into the current generation. I’d like to highlight some of the evolutions in the games that have begun to thrive in the newest editions.

Storytelling

Since the original Red, Blue and Yellow titles the Pokemon games have followed a standard formula. Each new edition gained slightly more features, a new set of critters to catch and benefited from the upgrades in recent technology. Over time the games became fairly standard in their content. You start your journey as a child to collect that region’s badges; another child forms some form of rivalry with you and will attempt to defeat you throughout the game; you have to foil the plans of the country’s evil team and capture the legendary Poke; finally you defeat the Pokemon League, become Champion and all there’s left to do is collect every creature to complete your Pokedex.

I won’t deny that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon share all of these common traits that epitomise the series. However, the newest games expand heavily outside of this. Instead of the traditional eight gym set up, you have to complete a series of trials. The trials always conclude with you fighting a totem Pokemon instead of a gym leader. These beasts are buffer versions of what you normally encounter in the wild and present a harder challenge than can be found in most Pokemon games. Frequently, I found myself defeated by these new obstacles.

Until Ultra Sun and Moon your journey to become the region’s Pokemon champion was always hindered by an evil team e.g. Rocket, Plasma, Magma etc. The new games not only boast Team Skull but you also have to contend with the Aether Foundation, the Ultra Recon Squad (are they bad, good or just cyborgs?) as well as the post game Rainbow Rocket whose ranks include every villain from the previous titles. The expansion of the story is perhaps due to technology as well as how much time developers can pour into the games. No matter what the cause of the fresher and more expansive story is, the result is a more engaging and unique experience.

Variety

After seven generations of games the Pokemon franchise has expanded a lot. The original 150 creatures has multiplied into 807, which is an awful lot to choose from. The Alola region offers over 400 of these to capture. I put my starter in the box and made my team completely of Pokemon that resemble dogs.  This was only possible because after so many games the world has a ridiculous variety of creatures to choose from. Not only are there a lot of Pokemon to fill your party but you can also catch almost every legendary (I don’t think Mew, Celebi or Shaymin are available). The plethora of options allow for endless combinations and fresh ways to play. This is developed further by regional variants. These variants take the standard Pokemon you have come to know and exposes them to different biological diversity. A new region provides new environmental pressures and their result is abstractly evolved Pokes.

Features

In the older games there wasn’t much to distract you from the main story. If you wanted an early Dratini or Porygon you could always gamble all your money in Game Corner. Likewise, Gen IV offered mining opportunities for rare stones and secret bases were available in Gen III but none of these side features engaged me for very long. Most of them demanded you play with friends or weren’t fun enough to distract from the story line. Ultra Sun and Moon offer more rewarding features such as a surfing mini game to get between cities. Surfing whilst fun also rewards your for your efforts and skill with TMs.

In the same vein, you can ride on a legendary Pokemon throughout space. In this feature you dodge electro-balls, garner energy for boosted speed and are rewarded for your skill by traveling through wormholes where rare Pokemon reside. The new mini-games are more appealing because they are not just distracting. Even though you aren’t forced to play them they offer rare and unique rewards that are often unattainable elsewhere in the game. Dedicating your time to them is essential to completing your Pokedex and providing a complete experience of Ultra Sun and Moon.

Overall, when I think back across my time with the Pokemon franchise I am happy to see how it has grown. The content is more plentiful and richer, the game play is more challenging and whilst a lot of the traditions of the series remain untouched there is original ideas being offered. The accumulations of the franchise so far has potentially produced the best game to date. Apparently Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the last titles to be released on the 3DS console. It may be a few years before we see a new game and who knows what format it will take but if the most recent games are any indication then the franchise can only get better.

 

Completing Duolingo and Beyond

If you’re familiar with some of my previous posts then you’ll be aware that I have been trying to learn Swedish for nearly eighteen months. I started after I fell in love with the country and started visiting every three or four weeks. After my first trip, I decided that my visits could only be improved by learning the language. With less than twelve million speakers Swedish isn’t the world’s most influential tongue. The lack of prevalence made my self teaching tricky, especially when there were so few sources to learn from. I settled upon Duolingo and have been plowing my way through their beginners course ever since.

Yesterday, I finally finished all the lessons the app provides. I was presented with an owl trophy and a mark that claimed I am now 57% fluent. I was very proud with my dedication to self improvement. Only attaining my degree has given me a similar level of pride. I searched the app for more tasks, expecting more advanced exercises to take my 57% fluency score up to 100. There were no more activities. All that remained was repeating the same tasks I have worked through over the last year. Just like every other skill repetition is an integral aspect of learning. I intend to repeat the course until I can recall every word with ease.

Duolingo has provided a solid foundation in my Swedish education but there is still a lot to build on. The question I am faced with is how to do further my development. I have tried searching for other apps but they only seem to teach the fundamentals of the language. I am going to search for more online courses, purchase children’s books and translate them with my Swedish dictionary, as well as consume more subtitled television programmes and radio broadcasts. I hope these efforts will further boost my abilities. However, I would prefer some form of structured lesson plan. A course along the lines of Duolingo that is aimed at the intermediate learner. If you have any advice regarding this then it is most welcome.

 

Hearthstone: Tips for Beginners

I have been playing Hearthstone for about seven months. I first began the game about three years ago along with a neighbour. After I didn’t make much progress I gave up the title and moved onto other games. Now I’m back on the Blizzard card based game and bashing my way up the leader board. In the event that time travel ever becomes possible I’m leaving some hints to myself. Hopefully, they will encourage my past self to continue with the game instead of taking a hiatus.

Don’t Spend Money

The thing that put me off other Blizzard games like World of Warcraft was the heavy price tag. I couldn’t justify a monthly subscription on a student budget. Luckily, Hearthstone is free to play and you can progress within the game without having to spend a dragon’s hoard on gold or card packs.

I have spent some money on expansions. The cost has been under £20. I spent more on booster packs and recieved less in return. I would recommend saving your real life coins and grinding your way through the daily quests, staching away your crafting dust, and only spend real money on game expansions.

Learn from others

The main reason I originally gave up Hearthstone was the lack of progress. No matter how hard I tried or attempted to create original decks, I couldn’t get past rank 20 in competitive play. When I returned to the game I decided I needed advice. I scoured YouTube for tutorials, hunted the Web for deck builds and began to emulate the advice of others.

I settled on a cheap hunter deck and began to slowly climb the ranks. As my collection grew larger, I began deferring from the premade deck and suplimented some of the less useful cards with the better ones I was acquiring. Two months later I improved my rank by seven places. The game claimed I was in the top 20% of players. Now I have the resources I can start moving onto more intricate styles of play, which will give me a more competitive deck.

Progress from Persistent Play

As with everything else in life, you can only get better if you practice. You can’t expect to be top ten after two days of play. Winning will be a long journey and even the best players don’t have a 100% win rate. It’s impossible to never lose. Just keep trying. If you do win though, don’t be the guy who continues to play cards when you have kill on the board. It’s rude to the other player.

London, Hot Leaf Juice and Twinings Tea Shop

My love for tea is unparalleled. As much as I enjoy a bottle of good red wine or a strong morning coffee, it is tea that I turn to throughout the day. On average, I will consume eight to ten cups during a twenty four hour period. This is probably because I am British, and our affection for the beverage is renowned world wide. However, unlike the majority  of my country folk, my preference is always for green tea. Some people find the choice a little odd. They’re more accustomed to a stronger brew, often diluted with milk and sugar. Occasionally, I’ll join in a cup the country’s favourite but I know the best cup is always green. That being said, in tea, as with most things in life,  if it makes you happy then you’ll hear no objection from me.

This weekend I journeyed to London. I realised it was unusual I have visited five other capital cities but not my own. It’s difficult to pin point what it is about London that has always deterred me. Perhaps it is because I am already familiar with the tourist sites. The attractions are possibly so well assimilated into  our culture that there  appears to be no adventure in visiting them. Either way, it was my partner’s birthday and he chose to visit London to celebrate the event. I went to the capital regardless of my apprehension.

We did some of the typical tourist activities: strolled the national gallery; marveled at the British Museum’s stolen Elgin Marbles; and took in an afternoon West End Show. By the final day, as we wandered through Hyde Park, I found I had warmed to the city. Eventually, we reached the Albert Memorial- an effigy to the Victorian Empire. The subject of the structure made me uncomfortable but the monument was none the less awe inspiring. Looking at the corner that represented India I remembered I was in a pivotal tea drinking city and hadn’t thought to look for a tea shop. A quick online search revealed that the Twinings Flagship store was located on The Strand. With just over an hour before we had to catch the train home we headed for the subway and the tea haven.

The shop is approximately three hundred years old and a testament to the variety and development of tea. Walking the narrow aisle you’re greeted by a hoard of boxes all filled with different leaves. It’s difficult to know which to choose when all the smell samples are strange perfumes enticing you to purchase. Towards the back of the shop is a small exhibit exploring some of the history of tea drinking. Across from the lesson was a lady brewing three pots, each vessel with a different potion to sample. In the end, I settled on a charming wooden box and filled it with new and my favourite teas.

If you appreciate tea then I would recommend a browse of the shop. If you aren’t then there are tea pots and cups available for purchase. I’m sure the staff can direct you towards an exciting taste test. Just don’t make the mistake of purchasing loose leaves because they don’t sell tea strainers. In honour of the shop and the great beverage I shall leave you with a poem and implore you to visit the store if you’re ever in London.

Green Tea

When it’s too cool to be tepid

or to warm to drink with ease,

the honey has sucked the side

to form a gel altogether sweet,

If you can drive your digit to

the center, flail and feel no pain,

It’s time to throw the cup away

and braise the leaves again.

 

Happy Ending

Occasionally, I have an insatiable craving for orange flavour chocolate. Last Friday night,  as the sun began to sleep, I went tracking the citrus tasting confectionery. Two minutes into my trek I realised I had forgotten my headphones. The journey to the supermarket is nearly thirty minuets- far too long to wander without music. I had no choice but to double back.

Eager to make up the lost time I stampeded through the streets, left my gate wide open and slipped. Regaining my balance I looked down to see what had tripped me. A small, green frog was stretched across the flags. Bending down I accessed the injuries I inflicted on the amphibian. It’s eyes still blinked, chest heaved with future croaks, but one leg stretched out at an acute angle. The limb had been crushed in my haste. It pulsed with pain as if the attack relocated its heart.

Without the ability to jump I knew the frog wouldn’t survive long. I went inside to retrieve my headphones and a cardboard box. The frog was going to be taken to a calm corner of the garden to live out its last days in peace. When I returned the creature had gone. I searched in the garden light for the wounded animal and found it squatting several meters away. I laughed as it jumped, both legs simultaneously propelling it forward and symmetrically supporting it on landing.

With a few more leaps the frog was taken away by the grass and darkness. The little fellow lived on. I smiled all the way to the supermarket. When I returned I left a square of chocolate for the survivor and made sure to watch my step on my way inside.