Been too sad to blog

Been too sad to blog

Now, I realise that whether or not I blog is of little or no importance to 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the world’s population, but I do feel an apology is in order.

I am sorry. I’ve been silent for the last week or so, mainly due to a kidney infection which laid me low. (Has anyone ever had a kidney infection? Oh my word, not been in that much pain, or felt that ill, since my previous life as a sufferer of the Black Death who was being tortured at the time.) But also because I’ve just not felt like my particular brand of conversational, light-hearted rubbish was particularly appropriate in the last few days. A friend of mine recently told me I should broaden my blog posts a bit, talk about more general topics than my writing or what films I’ve watched, and I shall, but just recently I haven’t felt justified in speaking about current affairs without sounding as though I’m jumping on a bandwagon.

I’m not normally one to watch the news, because, frankly, it depresses me. I realise that this is a childish attitude, and it is one I am trying to change. I want to be more up to speed with what is happening in the world, I genuinely do, but it really gets me down, to be fair. Generally speaking the news tends to be “MURDER” “TERRORISM” “CORRUPTION” “TRAGEDY”. With an occasional mention of global warming or the possibility of a meteor striking the earth and wiping us all out. And on top of that I’m supposed to give a flying monkey’s left nut about whether or not we are in the EU or not. The propaganda from both sides makes me suspect that whichever way I vote next week, we’re screwed. (Apologies if you are reading this outside of Britain, it’s the current hot topic.)

When I was a child the news always ended with “and on a lighter note…” There’d have been a baby Panda born, or a dog would have learned how to use a washing machine, or scientists would have found fossilised remains proving that dinosaurs had had Playstations…

Nowadays there’s so much bad news that the “lighter note” stuff doesn’t get a look in. There’s just not time. Who wants to hear about baby Panda’s when there’s another tragedy needing to be broadcast to the world? And I’m not saying that in a cynical way, because I do feel that people need to know what is happening in the world, I’m just sad that there is so much bad stuff nowadays that the “and in other news” pieces have been relegated to the internet.

Maybe we need a channel dedicated to the fluff pieces? Bliss News. As in “ignorance is bliss”. I’m not saying we ignore the bad stuff, but maybe we need a channel dedicated to puppies saving drowning kittens, endangered species being given new leases of life, and any other sort of story that warms the cockles of our hearts? Not as a substitute to the harsh, bitter, real news, but as a temporary escape? Something to temporarily distract us from the tragedies we face on a daily basis and remind us that the world contains joy as well as sadness.

I write fantasy and science fiction novels, and while there are bad guys, good inevitably triumphs in the end. I’d like to think that people could also use my books as a temporary means of escapism, a way to see the world as it perhaps should be, rather than how it is.

Anyway, I’ll try to get back to blogging more often, and to emphasise the lighter side of life, but I think it would be wrong not to at least note that I’ve been as affected by recent news as everyone else.

The tragic murder of Jo Cox hit me hardest when I clicked on the various links and learned just how great a lady she was. That her life has been ended so abruptly, and in such an evil fashion, is beyond unspeakable. I highly recommend that if, like me, you were unaware of who she was, what she had achieved, and what she stood for, you spend a few moments just reading about what an amazing woman she was. And that, again like me, you find some inspiration from her and resolve to do more with your own life.

Anton Yelchin was an actor of great talent, a particular favourite of mine, someone I had assumed would go on to be as big a name as Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Bruce Willis. One of the tributes I read, after learning that he had been killed by his own car in a tragic accident, was that cinema would be poorer for his loss. And I think this is very true. Like Heath Ledger, he could have gone on to do great things, and his death is untimely, pointless and bitterly sad.

And amongst these higher profile deaths, I was also incredibly affected to hear about a man dying in a Potash mine in Cleveland. Whilst not a celebrity, I couldn’t help but wonder who he had left behind, whose lives were ripped apart by his loss, who he had left behind? So RIP John Anderson.

These are just a few of the stories that, like my kidney infection, have brought me low this past week. But in the same week, a student awoke from a coma and his classmates re-held a graduation ceremony for him, a Muslim community near Detroit, Michigan broke their fast in order to be able to give blood following the shootings in Orlando, and the lady who became famous for her joyous, infectious laughter over her Chewbacca mask has now been given her own action figure by Hasbro. There is still joy in the world. I’ll try to get back to writing more regularly about that joy.

Apologies if this post was not my usual inane rambling, sometimes even an idiot writer with his head in another world like me has to acknowledge the world he lives in.

Stay Frosty, People, or as Frosty as you can.

Advertisements

Zombie Bootcamp…Good Idea or Not?

Zombie Bootcamp…Good Idea or Not?

On Saturday I had the “pleasure” of attending RAM Training’s Zombie Bootcamp, near Droitwich here in the UK. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve only put quotation marks around the word “pleasure” as I’m pretty certain that enjoyment isn’t the main thing you’re supposed to get out of this type of activity.

My various bumps and bruises would be inclined to agree.

In spite of the pain and exhaustion, though, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this event. It was well run, the instructors were enthusiastic and authentically ex-military, and the zombies themselves were…well, they were large, incredibly strong men who threw me and my friends around as though we were rag dolls. Very painfully. Which, I must admit, is what we had paid for.

(It is worth pointing out at this point that at no time were we misled about the kind of damage we might be taking. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, we’re just that stupid)

I was attending this event for a friend’s stag do, and it made a nice change from the “start drinking at noon, keep drinking till we fall over, wake up realising we ended up in a strip club and spent far too much money” type of stag party. We were booked in to the evening session (assuming that doing it in the dark would be more authentically scary), and arrived on time (unusually for us) and sober (ish). We were greeted by an instructor who proceeded to verbally abuse us (again, you know what you’re signing up for, and it’s all part of the fun), especially our stag, who was in a dress and feather boa, and myself, in one of my usual Hawaiian shirts, and of course anyone who spoke up, backchatted, looked a bit funny…basically our whole group was in trouble.

After signing a form that basically said we waived our right to sue them under any circumstances, including the off chance that a real zombie apocalypse occurred while we were there and we were all turned into members of the walking dead, we trooped inside to get geared up. This was the first awesome part of the experience.

Kevlar body armour, as used by actual soldiers – check.

Bulletproof helmet, as used in real combat – check.

Knee pads, as used by extreme sport enthusiasts and anyone who keels down a lot – check.

Elbow guards, as used by anyone who wants to look like a bit of a tit – check.

OK, the elbow guards didn’t look massively macho, but the rest of the gear made us feel like Green Berets, even with my bright orange shirt hanging out of the bottom of my Kevlar vest…

We then had a quick briefing, followed by some Public Order training. This was where the Bootcamp part of the experience was felt most keenly, as we paraded up and down with enormous riot shields and rubber batons, learning a few drills, repeating orders back to our instructor with childish enthusiasm and volume, and then being forced to do more push ups than most of us had experienced in a loooooong time (think north of ten). There was another stag group participating on the same evening as us, and mock riots followed, the two groups taking it in turns to beat each other silly with the rubber batons.

All in all, a good introduction to the evening. A bit of fun, getting to play with actual riot gear, whacking a complete stranger on the backside with a rubber baton…what more could you ask for on a Saturday night?

Our group was then first to do an “exercise”. This involved us being kitted out once again with the riot gear, being bundled into the back of a van and driven to another part of the compound (industrial estate) where we quickly formed up in a line, as trained to do a full twenty minutes previously. Immediately there was a “casualty” to be checked, and I, in my ridiculously chosen bright shirt (might as well have had “target” tattooed on my forehead) was chosen to go and see if said fallen soldier was still breathing.

He was not. He was, of course, a zombie. One who proceeded to vomit blood all over my helmet, visor, body armour, shirt sleeves, arm, ear, jeans and shoes. Please believe me when I tell you that this blood is not that easy to clean off, especially when ignored for several hours…and in a facility where the only mirrors are the ones in the sun visor of the passenger seat of your car. (Also no showers on site, should you choose to stay over, which we did. Take baby wipes.)

After so effectively vomiting blood all over me the zombie proceeded to drag me to the ground, whereupon my friends beat the cr*p out of him with their rubber truncheons, rescuing me from the clutches of the undead…and just in time for another couple of the biggest, burliest zombies you’ll ever see to come lumbering out from behind cover to attack our little group.

They were big. They seemed angry (possibly because we were constantly hitting their legs, arms and torsos with rubber truncheons). And they were extremely strong. They genuinely did pick us up and hurl us through the air. Sometimes we landed on the conveniently placed sandbags designed to cushion our falls, sometimes we missed and landed on the inconveniently placed gravel which seemed designed only to incur maximum pain on any body part it came into contact with.

I hit the gravel. A lot.

Of course, I was being enthusiastic, and giving it my all, really getting into the spirit of the whole thing. Otherwise what’s the point? This did, though, make me something of a target. I’m not the biggest man in the world (about 5’9″ and around 12 stone), I was getting up quickly and attacking these beefy zombies again and again, and I was wearing an item of clothing that I have been told makes the word “garish” feel small and insignificant.

I forget how many times I was airborne that night, but it was a lot. And it was worth it. When the exercise came to its conclusion one of the instructors declared “not a bad effort, there, lads, especially you, Hawaiian Shirt”. I felt like Arnie, Sly and Dolph rolled into one (and if you don’t get those references, I instruct you to go and watch every 80’s action movie ever made). I was a warrior!

A short break followed, and then some mandatory training on the paintguns we would be using in our next assignment (here’s the trigger, here’s the safety, try not to shoot anyone in the face). Then it was back on the van, back to the encampment, back into action! Only this time, we had firearms…

Split into two Fire-Teams, we proceeded to clear rooms, shout gung-ho phrases and pepper the broad chests of some suspiciously similar looking zombies with paintballs (they were now equipped with goggles, though in the darkness and at the speed we were moving, this detracted in no way from the overall atmosphere). Each Fire-Team was accompanied by an instructor, who kept the whole thing moving along nicely, and occasionally threw a “grenade” (firecracker) into a room before us, adding to the illusion of being in an actual war-zone. Eventually our two teams met up, and at the end we lined up in two ranks and let rip at an oncoming horde of the undead.

Whereas in the first exercise it seemed that an almost infinite number of blows with a baton was required to down your reanimated foe, in the second (and in my opinion far more fun) exercise the walking dead went down after three or four hits in the chest. This made the whole thing more satisfying for me, and I think a very sensible way round to order the activities. The zombies beat the living hell out of you in the first round, and in the second you get to shoot at them at close range with paintball guns. Fair enough.

Finally, having survived our experience, we retired to the bar, where one of our instructors was doubling as a barman, along with a much more attractive barmaid (no offense to our instructor, of course, fine figure of  man but not my type), and we drank for a few hours while reliving our evening. And playing beer pong. And eating pizza and kebabs from a local takeaway. And occasionally groaning with pain.

The sleeping arrangements were zombie-apocalypse chic, bunkbeds in a dormitory, very much bring-your-own-sleeping-bag-and-pillow-and-anything-else-you-think-might-make-you-more-comfortable, but as we didn’t stop drinking till nearly three and breakfast was at eight, it wasn’t like we spent long in the beds anyway.

Speaking of breakfast, it was served at a nearby café, and was everything you could ask for in a full English. Hearty, well-cooked, and served with a mug of tea.

All in all I had an excellent time, even if I could barely move my left shoulder for the following two days, though this is not something I would recommend for the faint of heart (two members of the other stag party had to sit out the second activity, I believe) or the ridiculously unfit. I was shattered by the end of the first exercise, which was pretty physically demanding, and I’m not in bad shape. Not great shape, but not bad.

The instructors were entertaining, just abusive enough, but friendly when all was said and done, the zombies were suitably terrifying and violent, but also restrained (they could easily have crushed me like a grape if they’d wanted to) and the whole thing was a great experience.

Pros – the equipment was authentic and top notch, the action was physical enough to feel real without being overly dangerous (minor bumps and bruises occurred, obviously, but at no point did I feel in actual danger), the staff were all great in their respective roles.

Cons – I’m still feeling the bruises 5 days later…definitely not for the fragile. Could have done with some real ale in the bar.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who wants something a bit different as an experience, especially fans of zombie horror. And only if you can take your sense of humour with you.

More writing news next time, hope life is treating everyone well.

Stay Frosty, People.