Mind Over Body

James Proclaims (4)

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As I’ve mentioned in one or more of my previous ponderous posts, I’m currently in the process of attempting (but not really succeeding) to write the dissertation bit of my MA.

In truth it’s not actually my MA.

Not yet.

I need to write a dissertation first.

I also have a full-time job, because I haven’t yet worked out a way of not having a job and still being able to pay my mortgage.

Even for someone who is motivated and academically inclined, writing a dissertation alongside having a full-time job is quite hard.

And it would certainly be a stretch to describe me as either motivated or academically inclined.

I’m not stupid (or possibly I’m so stupid that I don’t realise that I’m stupid) but academia and I have never really gotten on too well.

Occasionally I have shown the potential to be an academic. Throughout school, my undergrad days and even at times on this MA course, I have demonstrated that, when I put my mind to it, I can achieve grades at the more impressive end of the scale. However, these flashes of brilliance are all too often followed by mediocrity and in truth I’m far more likely to flirt with grades at the less impressive end of the scale. I normally do enough to pass, but quite often I do ‘just enough’.

Throw in a new(ish) baby (not literally obviously – I’m still a relative novice at this parenting malarkey but I’m given to understand that throwing a baby is not generally considered wise. Especially if bathwater is involved apparently) and time is a commodity I don’t have much of.

I do enjoy looking after my daughter. She can be a little demanding, often in the early hours of the morning, but she’s mostly delightful and for someone who hasn’t actually mastered the art of speaking, she has quite a lot to say, and she says it with such feeling and passion that I’m not sure actual words would add much to her soliloquies.

In order to be able to do my job to an acceptable (but rarely  exceptional) level and to be able to grind out a dissertation (that will achieve the minimum pass mark) by April, and to be able to enjoy the company of my daughter (and sometimes my wife, although in truth Mrs Proclaims are currently operating on a shift pattern with regards childcare and are rarely conscious and in each other’s company. We do enjoy a regular verbal exchange at around 3am when debating over who gets the honour of listening to our offspring’s latest early-morning orations) something has had to give.

And that has very much been exercise.

Not that I’ve ever been any more athletically inclined than I am academically inclined. But I generally do try and keep fit enough that my tendency to indulge in foods that might be considered insalubrious do as little damage to my long-term health as possible.

I’m not sure, even at my fittest, that I’ve ever really managed to get the balance of diet and exercise entirely geared towards optimum wellbeing, but in normal times I do enough good to at least mitigate the bad.

At the moment, though, the balance is swaying very much towards the bad. In attempting to secure a qualification that I don’t really need (and at this point I’m not even sure I want) I am sacrificing the short-term health of my body for the long-term benefits of my mind.

Although it’s not really clear that having an MA will bring any benefits to my mind.

Other than the fact that, assuming all goes well, from April onwards I’ll able to smugly boast to anyone that will listen that I have an MA.

When all is said and done, it’s not actually that much of a boast.

Nonetheless, and in spite of a total lack of comprehension as to what it is I’m bragging about, I’m sure that my daughter will greet the news with her usual infectious enthusiasm.

 

 

 

Definitively Depressing Democracy

James Proclaims (4)

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Today is Blue Monday. Apparently, this is what the cool kids now call the third Monday in January.

It’s supposedly the most depressing day of the year.

And it’s absolutely a real thing and not just some concept originally made up by a travel agent in 2005 to sell more holidays.

So, if you’re feeling depressed today, that’s absolutely fine and you don’t need to seek medical help.

Conversely if you woke up this morning in a relatively chipper mood, there is definitely something wrong with you and you should absolutely seek help at the first opportunity.

One would imagine that the premise of Blue Monday is that Christmas is now a relatively distant memory but we’re still all paying for it in terms of trying to shift excess weight gained during the festive period, with the added problem of having no money thanks to pay day still being over a week away.

And it’s Monday.

Which is always a bad thing.

But this January seems to have given some of us even more reasons to not be cheerful.

I’m vaguely aware of something called a Government Shutdown happening in the US, which is seemingly attributable to the normally even-handed and flexible Mr Trump.

It doesn’t seem like a good thing, but it hasn’t really been headline news over here.

This is not because we Brits like to mind our own business and don’t care about the comings and going of the POTUS. Indeed, such is the coverage normally that you’d be forgiven for thinking that he is actually president of here too.

Fortunately, he’s been largely kept out of our news because our own behemoth of badness has been rather dominating the headlines of late.

That behemoth is, of course, Brexit. If you don’t know what Brexit is, then I’ll refer you to an explanation offered by a number of its proponents:

“Brexit means Brexit.”

Hope that’s cleared that up for you.

The same people also regularly offer a definition for the word ‘leave’.

Which is:

“Leave means Leave”.

Indeed, if the exponents of exiting Europe ever release their own dictionary it will be quite a slim volume, bereft as it will be of any actual definitions of any of the words therein.

Which isn’t to say that it won’t sell well.

Because you can’t argue that Brexiteers don’t know how to market their crap pretty well.

I, of course, am a certified remoaner. I’d rather we hadn’t voted for Brexit. But don’t mistake me for something I’m not. I’m not especially a fan of the European Union.

To be a fan I’d have to understand how it all works.

And I don’t understand at all.

I think, on balance, I’d rather live in a world where we’re all a bit more connected and I think the EU probably represents that.

But I’m hardly an idealist.

If someone could have persuaded me that I, personally, would be significantly better off with Britain leaving the EU, I’d have gladly ignored my principles and voted wholeheartedly for Brexit.

But no-one could.

It was all a bit vague really.

And two and half years on, as we hurtle towards the definitive date when we cease to be part of Europe in an economical and political sense (although remain very much part of it in a geographical sense) it seems no-one has any idea what is going to happen.

Perhaps I’m being a little idealistic, but it kind of feels like we should have known what we were voting for (or against) back when we actually voted on it.

Some people are suggesting that, now we do know a bit more, we should maybe have another referendum.

Other people seem to be of the view that to have another referendum, which could potentially undermine the first vote, would be undemocratic.

I’m not sure another vote would solve anything, because I think we’re all still as clueless now as we were back in 2016, but I really would like someone to explain to me how another referendum would be undemocratic.

Because I’d have thought having another vote would be the very definition of democratic.

Then again, I’m probably using the wrong kind of dictionary.

 

 

 

 

Time Mismanagement

James Proclaims (4)

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Sometimes I wonder if I am the personification of procrastination. If I were to look up the definition for procrastination in a dictionary, I would genuinely not be surprised to see my own face grinning back at me.

If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would probably win the gold medal. If I ever got around to competing of course. Which I wouldn’t because I’d be too busy re-organising my sock drawer. I’m just that good.

If it were possible to make a living from procrastinating, I’d certainly consider getting around to one day applying for a role doing just that. I’d be a ‘pro’ crastinator.

Today (or rather yesterday, for that is when I wrote this) is absolutely a case in point. I have spent the last year or so avoiding writing the dissertation which will finally see me complete a MA course, which I have been doing for longer than is remotely reasonable. Because I’ve been doing it part time, I’ve been able to take my time, but I actually completed most of the modules several years ago and have been delaying the dissertation for as long as I could. Mostly because I didn’t want to do it.

But I couldn’t put it off forever and so, a year ago, I committed to starting it.

And then I ignored it.

Until it was really too late to complete it by the deadline.

I did have some mitigating circumstances – not least the arrival of my beloved (but very distracting) daughter.

There were other things too. Nothing massively interesting, but quite a few things happened last year to create a perfect storm, which prevented me from being able to give the dissertation the time it deserved.

The university agreed that I had a quite a few extenuating circumstances going against me and so they granted me an extension.

Which was nice of them.

But really, since December, I’ve had plenty of time to look at it.

And I haven’t.

And it’s getting a bit embarrassing now.

Thanks to the extension I still have ample time left to get it done, but my lack of progress is starting to get more than a little worrying.

My daughter remains the primary distraction. She’s genuinely adorable, but she’s quite loud, which can make focussing on academic literature quite difficult. Academic literature is rarely a compelling read and I can think of lots of things I’d rather be doing than ploughing my way through reams of journal articles on a subject I’m only claiming to care about for the purposes of getting a qualification that might help my career (but in all honesty might not). In contrast spending time with my offspring currently ranks as my absolute favourite thing in the world to do. It would take a lot of willpower to sit in my makeshift home office (aka the spare room) and ignore her if I couldn’t hear her, but if’s she awake, she’s generally making some kind of noise.

Mrs Proclaims, sympathetic to my plight, did take her out today.

Which left the house nice and quiet and gave me the time and space I needed to finally make a start on pulling some of my incoherent thoughts and ideas together and maybe write the few thousand words that I need to convince my supervisor that I might actually pull this off (he’s been remarkably patient thus far but I think he’s pretty much given up on me).

Instead I did lots of other things.

None of which needed to be done.

One of them was writing this.

A Month Of Mondays

James Proclaims (4)
piggybank-472298_640.pngToday is the 7th January, which means that we’re a week into 2019. It also means that we’re almost a quarter of the way through January, which is good because January is an awful month and needs to be over as soon as possible. It’s obviously not January’s fault, you can’t blame an abstract measure of time for where it falls in the calendar. And if you could it would clearly be December’s fault, because without the excesses of Christmas I wouldn’t now be obliged (for both financial and health reasons) to live such a meagre existence for the next few weeks.

But those excesses did happen and now it’s time to tighten the metaphorical belt and strive towards being able to tighten the actual belt again. I’d like to say that for the last seven days I’ve been living a more virtuous existence, but alas there is more than enough in the way of wine and chocolate to see me well into February. I hate to let it go to waste, so instead I let it go to waist.

In reality, therefore, it’s likely to be a while before any kind of regime kicks in regarding my long-term health. I have been exercising for the last few weeks so as to mitigate some of the damage, but alas my ability to consume calories far outstrips my ability to burn them.

Fortunately for my future health, the financial limitations of January do mean that I won’t be able to purchase any more bad food for a while. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to purchase anything else either. Which is depressing and makes me want to drink wine and eat chocolate. Of which I have an abundance.

The good news is that today I go back to work after the Christmas break. I mean it’s obviously not really good news. I hate work (to be clear I don’t mean I hate my job, which has it’s ups and downs like any job, I mean I hate the entire concept of having to work – retirement can’t come soon enough but I’m a few decades away from that according to my bank statements) so I’d rather not have to go back, but when I am in work I don’t tend to drink too much wine – it’s generally frowned upon to be inebriated in the world of secondary education. I can still consume chocolate of course, but I find that when I’m in work, people expect me to, y’know, work. Which leaves little time for snacking. So, I expect January will allow me to return to my usual state of being slightly less overweight than I currently am.

I may strive towards becoming ‘not overweight’ later in the year, but one step at a time.

In a metaphorical sense I worry about taking one step forward and two steps backwards but in a physical sense that would burn at least as many calories as three steps forward.

I think there’s a lesson for us all in there somewhere.

But I’ve got no idea what it is.

My Incredibly Ambitious Resolutions For 2019

James Proclaims (4)

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Happy New Year everyone!

Today is the first day of 2019 and, as is always the case at the beginning of any year, it is customary, arguably obligatory, to come up with a list of ways to self improve.

Because there is no better way to start January, that most miserable of months, than by listing all the ways that we’re inadequate and then committing to unrealistic goals that we have no chance of achieving, just to really ensure that our self esteem is really at rock bottom by the time February rolls around.

In previous years I have not take the notion of New Year’s Resolutions as seriously as I could.

And this year will be no exception.

Last year I set the bar particularly low and set myself some resolutions that were basically quite mundane things I was already planning to do.

However, I feel it is possible to lower the bar even further so this year’s resolutions will be less about changing things to make me a better person but rather committing to ‘not changing things’ so I definitely don’t become a worse person.

I am mildly optimistic that I will achieve all of this year’s targets.

They are as follows:

  1. I’m going to continue not drinking whisky, mostly because I don’t really like it. That’s probably a good thing though right? Although I will still be drinking plenty of wine and beer…
  2. I definitely won’t take up smoking.
  3. I’m not going to start actively using Social Media (aside from this blog, which barely counts anyway) and in particular I’m going to avoid using Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Mostly because I don’t really know what any of those things are.
  4. Thanks to Brexit, I’m going to continue to keep my carbon footprint relatively low by not travelling abroad for the foreseeable future.
  5. I’m not going to commit to a life of crime. Unless I’m certain that I’ll get away with it. 

There we go – I’m sure I can achieve all of those things.

I’m feeling more virtuous already.

The (Increasingly Traditional) James Proclaims New Year’s Eve Review Of The Year That Was

James Proclaims (6)

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It’s still 2018 as I write this. At least it is in the UK. In some other time zones it might well be 2019 by now. And indeed it will be 2019 here soon enough too. But before that happens, tradition dictates that it’s time, once again, for me to review the year that has just happened.

Although did anything of note happen in 2018? In last year’s version of this post I wrote about Brexit and Trump. And the year before that I wrote about Brexit and Trump. So I’m loathe to do that again this year, but that does leave me with not much else. Because those two horrendous realities still seem to be largely dominating the news.

Unless I’m mistaken, which is entirely possible because for me personally, 2018 was quite a momentous year.

In that I became a dad for the first time.

Which is quite a big thing.

And frankly the only thing I’m remotely capable of thinking about most of the time.

Obviously, it’s a good thing and I love Baby Proclaims more than I’m able to adequately express in words. She has literally brought joy to my life on a multitude of levels every single day since she entered in my life. I’m sure other stuff happened this year, particularly in the seven months of 2018 that preceded her arrival but I’m finding it hard to recall even the notion of an existence before my daughter.

Still, parenting does have its downsides. I wouldn’t object, for example, a night of unbroken sleep.

The chances of me maintaining consciousness until midnight in order to see the New Year in are not looking overly promising at the moment.

Not that I’m especially devoted to that notion in any case.

Mrs Proclaims and I have never been big on celebrating the New Year. A glass of sparkling wine and a nice meal is the best we normally manage, and, if Baby Proclaims allows, we might just manage that again this year, but we’ve never been likely to trouble a party with our presence, so our ‘bundle of joy’ is hardly cramping our style.

In my younger days I was more likely to be found heavily inebriated in a pub or a club, but honestly, I’m not sure starting the New Year with a massive hangover is an especially good way to go about things, but I was less enlightened in my youth. Probably because I was drunk.

I’ve just had a quick look at the blog resolutions I made on the 1st January and I seem to have achieved most of them. They were, of course, eminently achievable (apparently my ‘clever joke’ last year was to make them especially unambitious) but there was still a chance I would fail miserably. Actually, I’m not sure I did achieve the one about watching a film of Mrs Proclaim’s choice. To be fair she doesn’t really like watching films so I’m really not the worst husband ever and I am nice to her in all kinds of ways that she actually appreciates.

I did achieve the one about running a mile. Indeed, I almost made it to two miles before giving up. Don’t judge me too harshly, I did, as I’ve previously noted on this blog, run more than one marathon in my younger days, but I had more time on my hands back then. I haven’t been completely inactive during 2018, but it hasn’t been a vintage year for fitness and might be something I need to address in 2019. I don’t want to harp on about being a new parent, but I think it mitigates my relative inactivity slightly.

Anyway, the point of all this is that 2018 has now mostly happened and I can’t really remember any of it.

But it was definitely a year.

Of that there is no doubt.

The Fourth Annual Christmas Message from James Proclaims

James Proclaims (4)

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As it is now a firmly established tradition that I write a Christmas message on Christmas Day, I shan’t eschew that responsibility and let down the odd person who might actually care. It’s true that the person in question is exceptionally odd, but it feels wrong to disappoint them.

Normally I write this in advance of the big day and schedule it to go ‘live’ at the same time as the Queen’s Speech goes out to the nation. Which is 3pm the last time I checked.

This year I didn’t get around to writing it beforehand, because life has been a little more busy lately. Mostly because I became a parent for the first time this year.

So I didn’t get to go head-to-head with Her Madge this time. Which is probably for the best. She’s getting on a bit and she doesn’t need the added pressure of going up against me any more.

An upside of me writing this on the day itself is that I can actually tell you what kind of Christmas I’m having, as opposed to the usual speculation.

And, as it happens, I’m having a good one. As the time of writing I’m sitting next to the Christmas tree, wearing a paper crown and feeling slightly inebriated after drinking a few glasses of a sparkling wine that is Italian in origin but not prosecco. I’m ok with it not being prosecco, because I have no idea whether I like prosecco any more than I like any other kind of sparkling wine. As long as it tastes nice and leaves me feeling seasonally cheerful then I’ll gladly drink it and this stuff is certainly doing the job.

Mrs Proclaims and I have just enjoyed our festive feast. As Mrs Proclaims is a pescatarian, we don’t  have turkey. Instead I knocked up a side of salmon, which is a reasonable alternative, in that it tastes great but more pertinently, there are usually leftovers, which can be consumed later in sandwich form (this is an essential component of a Christmas dinner in my view). I presented it with all the traditional accoutrements, such as roast potatoes (which I normally do well, but I slightly overcooked them this year) parsnips (which I absolutely nailed) and sprouts (which you basically can’t get that wrong, although it could be argued that sprouts are, by their very nature, wrong). I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but it was a pretty good effort and I’m now feeling suitably stuffed. Like the turkey we didn’t have.

Baby Proclaims is enjoying her first Christmas. I mean she has no idea that it’s Christmas, but she seems to be in good spirits. To be fair she’s often in good spirits. Except, on occasion, between the hours of 1am and 3am. I find her less endearing at those times (but still pretty endearing). In Christmases past Mrs Proclaims and I would have long since opened all of the presents, but this year we’ve not managed to get to them yet. This is partly because having a four and half month old infant is quite the distraction, but also because most of the presents appear to not be for us, but for our darling offspring. They look really nice all wrapped up and Baby Proclaims appears to be in no hurry to open them so we’ve left them in their ornamental state for a little longer. In the background Chris Rea is singing about driving home for Christmas. He’s already done that a few times today. Slade, Wizzard and Wham have also popped up the playlist more than once.

I’ve no idea what the rest of the day has in store for me, but I imagine that Baby Proclaims will dominate much of it as is her way. She looks really cute in her festive outfit though so I expect I’ll be able to tolerate her. I might also have some Christmas pudding.

If you are reading this on Christmas Day, then I hope you’re having a great one. If you’re not reading it on Christmas Day, then I still hope you’re having a nice day, but I will need some pretty compelling evidence to explain why you didn’t make reading my blog the centrepiece of your Yuletide celebrations.

The Second Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 24

James Proclaims (6)

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It’s Christmas Eve once more and therefore logic would dictate that it’s time for the final entry in The Second Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films.

A year ago we rounded off the first James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films with the awesome movie that is Die Hard.

It therefore only seems appropriate that this year we complete our festive film journey with the sequel to that film, the not-quite-as-awesome-but-still-really-good Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

The Die Hard franchise is one of diminishing returns as a general rule. It’s a big ask for any sequel to live up to the 1988 original, which is more or less perfect, but to be fair to 1990’s Die Hard 2 it’s probably the closest. It does at least feel like a sequel, unlike the subsequent efforts which seem more like generic action films starring Bruce Willis as ‘generic action hero’. I quite like 1995’s Die Hard With A Vengeance – it’s a really good film, possibly a better film in many respects that Die Hard 2 but, although it pays lip service to the original by having Jeremy Irons playing ‘Simon Gruber’, brother to Alan Rickman’s iconic ‘Hans Gruber’ from the first film, the character that Bruce Willis is playing doesn’t really seem to be John McClane any more. At least not the John McClane we know from the first movie.

And aside from the Gruber connection, none of the supporting characters who contributed to the awesomeness of the first Die Hard turn up.

But they do in Die Hard 2.

Bonnie Bedelia’s ‘Holly McClane’, William Atherton’s ‘Richard Thornburg’ and Reginald VelJohnson’s ‘Al Powell’ are all back, and even if none are quite as central to the action as in the first film they all have their roles to play. Moreover, Willis’ ‘John McClane’ seems like he is pretty much the same character as in the first movie. Indeed his reconciliation with Holly seems to be going really well, aside from the intrusion of heavily armed bad guys. Although Die Hard 2 is set in Washington Dulles International Airport, we know that McClane has given up his life as a New York Cop and is now an LA Cop, working alongside Al. Clearly this isn’t going to last as by the time we get to Die Hard With A Vengeance he’s again separated from Holly and living in New York. Which is kind of sad, but not relevant to this film.

The return of familiar characters, alongside McClane is a nice touch. Given the location of the events the story didn’t need the other characters to turn up but they all add to the narrative and make us feel very much that this is a true Die Hard film.

Die Hard 2 does make the classic mistake that many sequels make, in trying to be bigger and bolder than the first movie, it loses its way at times. In particular a scene in which an aeroplane is brought down by the bad guys (who are way less fun than Hans Gruber) and killing 200 innocent people completely jars with the popcorn action flick that this is supposed to be. After a  tragedy of that magnitude there is no way that anything McClane does is really going to ‘save the day’ but by the end of the movie everyone seems to have forgotten about that particular mass killing and there are smiles and jokes aplenty.

If you can ignore these moments of absolute horror, (and there are other scenes that are just a brutal, albeit on a smaller scale) then Die Hard 2 is a more than a creditable sequel to the greatest action film ever made.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s the only Die Hard sequel that is set at Christmas and as with the original, Christmas is totally relevant to the plot. Indeed Die Hard 2 might even be a tad more Christmasish than the first movie because it also boasts an abundance of snow. An chaos at an airport, which is definitely a hallmark of Christmas.

The Second Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 23

James Proclaims (6)

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Director John Frankenheimer made into last’s years James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films with the, frankly, awful but surprisingly Christmas(ish) Reindeer Games. If that wasn’t representative of his best work then 1998’s action flick Ronin is certainly a better offering..

 

With a decent cast, led by Robert De Niro and Jean Reno, Ronin boasts some compelling action sequences, particularly the car chases, which are reminiscent of The French Connection. It’s not going to change anyone’s  life, but it’s a relatively entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s definitely set around the festive period and there is often a hint of Christmas in the background. It’s all totally irrelevant to the plot, but it’s definitely a Christmas(ish) film.

The Second Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 22

James Proclaims (6)

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2008’s Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is a pretty decent follow up to 2004’s Hellboy. Both movies were directed by Guillermo Del Toro, who made the not unremarkable Pan’s Labyrinth in between. While that film garnered plenty of recognition and critical acclaim, neither of the Hellboy movies really troubled any major award ceremonies. But they are still great fun and in a world where seemingly every other major release is a comic book adaptation, the Hellboy films certainly hold their own.

Hellboy 2 might actually be that rarest of entities, in that it’s a sequel that is slightly better than its predecessor. The cast are all decent, but it’s Del Toro’s trademark visual effects that really impress.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s quite a promising  beginning, as we see a young Hellboy being told a fairy tale on Christmas Eve. We never return to Christmas after that, but as most of the action in the movie centres around characters from that very fairy tale, it’s still all sort of Christmas(ish).