A-Z April 2012

Z is for Zynga


Z is for Zynga

For the last post in this fantastic A-Z Challenge, my chosen subject for the letter Z is Zynga. For those of you who don’t know, Zynga is a gaming organisation with a large range of games available on Facebook.

I am a keen player of their Pioneer Trail and have played it since it was first launched around 2 years ago. Until then I’d avoided getting involved with any games on Facebook (ok, Mindjolt was alright for a minor distraction now and again) but I did my best to avoid getting into Mafia Wars, Farmville and Cafe World etc. The Pioneer Trail was originally called Frontierville, and then it changed to The Oregon Trail for a short while. I think there was some sort of copyright issue with that so it was swiftly changed to Pioneer Trail. Personally I couldn’t see what was wrong with the original name, but hey, I’m only a player so what do I know?!

Zynga’s games all belong to what could be described as a suite of games – the graphics are very similar, the game stories are similar, the mission requests are all very much the same – which is why I didn’t get involved. However, the Pioneer Trail is different. The graphics are far superior and in terms of game play it manages to strike that balance between playing it for long enough so as you don’t feel short-changed, but things taking that much time to complete that you can’t get totally hooked on it and end up spending 24 hours a day on it as you can with other games (I’m thinking of the endless hours spent on the Wii and the Nintendo SNES….)

The basic story is that you have decided to make it on your own as a pioneer, and you basically make a settlement for yourself by building a cabin, growing crops, chopping trees and tending animals. From there the story develops and we’re at the point now where we’ve built a whole town, got trainable animals, a vast array of crops to choose from and there have been side-games along the way for variety.

There is a complete game experience with Zynga’s games and there is a forum where you can discuss various aspects of it, vent any frustrations, contact the development team etc which is fantastic. I joined it pretty much early on so that I could keep up with new things coming up in the game and learning from other players about what to expect for the missions and the quests etc.

The whole Zynga experience for me has been largely a positive one. I only began playing because I was stuck at home, sick, and unable to do much of anything at all (this is an old story and I don’t want to rehash it here!). The thing that hooked me into the Pioneer Trail was that you need neighbours to help you out and for you to visit to get things done for missions. I took a leap of faith pretty early on by joining the forum and putting my name out there on the “add me” pages. It meant that I practically doubled my Facebook friends within a very short space of time, but being savvy with the privacy settings I am able to separate my gaming friends from my real-life friends. Of course there are cross-overs: some of my “real” friends also play the game, and some of my gaming friends have become like “real” friends. It has been important to me that I maintained contact with real people throughout my illness otherwise I would have literally gone insane! I am definitely a people-person and yes, the Zynga games are only coloured pixels, but they are played by real people and that contact has meant a huge amount to me.

I have been on the receiving end of a certain amount of mickey taking because of my Pioneer Trail game playing, which is ok, but…oh hang on a minute, my crops are just coming up and I’m going to have to go and pull them before they wither. Later taters!!!!

 

 

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A-Z April 2012

Y is for Youlgreave


Y is for Youlgreave

Youlgreave is a small village deep in the Derbyshire countryside, roughly half way between Buxton and Matlock. It is a pretty unremarkable place really and I suppose you are wondering why I am writing about it today, especially as I am Manchester born and bred and it is a couple of hours drive away.

Let me enlighten you.

Some time ago I began researching my family tree with Kevin. It was something that we had always wanted to do, and after a couple of conversations with my Gran we decided to find out some more about our family and where we have come from.

I already knew that my Mum’s family name is “Birds”, which is quite an unusual surname. Apart from her father (and his brothers and sisters, all 13 of them) there are no other Birds in Manchester. We gathered some bits of information from my Gran and we found out that there was a family grave in St Peter’s churchyard here in Blackley so we set out to try and find it. The churchyard is massively overgrown, and around 75% of it is inaccessible. We tramped and tramped for hours one afternooon through the vegetation, scraping moss off inscriptions and at the point of giving up we bumped into an old man by chance who was just outside the church door. He was very polite and asked us what we were doing, and when we explained he said “Oh the Birds? I know that family! I went to school with Walter Birds”. He was very helpful and pointed us in the right direction to the grave we were looking for. A very nice chap indeed!

We were really surprised that when we saw it because there were quite a few names on the headstone, and the neighbouring plot was also a Birds family plot. The inscription on the first headstone said that there was one of the family interred at Youlgreave, which was a place neither of us had heard of before.

We were intrigued to say the least, and set about trying to find out where it was and whether or not it would be possible to find our relative buried there. We looked in the roadmap and were delighted to find that there was only one Youlgreave in England (we were hoping it would be in England and not somewhere overseas, so that was a relief!) and because it was only a couple of hours away we thought we would have a day out to find it. The game was afoot!

When we arrived in Youlgreave we were faced with a bit of a dilemma; which churchyard would he be buried in (there was a church at the end of the village as we arrived, one part way up the main street, a Methodist chapel next to that and then a really old church at the far end of the village) and would we be able to find the grave after all this time? We decided that the best plan of action would be to tackle the old churchyard at the far end of the village first and work our way back out again, so we parked up and found our way into the grounds. We were expecting quite a bit of a hunt to be honest. As I said, the name “Birds” is really uncommon, and the churchyard was as nearly overgrown as the one at St Peter’s back home in Blackley, and we weren’t even sure we were in the right place to start with. Daunting wasn’t in it!

Imagine our surprise when we went through the little latched gate off the road into the graveyard and literally stumbled across a headstone with exactly the name we were looking for – CHARLES LEONARD BIRDS. Eureka!!! How easy was that?! Only…hang on a minute, there was another headstone next to his with…erm…Charles Leonard Birds on that one too. And another on the row behind with the name Leonard C Birds. And round the corner was Charles Birds… Oh my word. There were literally HUNDREDS of Birds’ buried in that churchyard!

We wrote down as many details off as many headstones as we could, including dates and family connections and were overwhelmed with the number of graves with the same surname on. On the way out of the churchyard there was a parish noticeboard, so we had a look (as you do when you visit somewhere new and you’re as nosey as me!). There were the standard notices – Jumble Sales, services offered, notice of a parish meeting etc – and again, the name Birds jumped out at us because so many of the people on the noticeboard had my family name. Wow!

We followed up the information when we got home and we discovered that the Birds family have been associated with Youlgreave and the surrounding area for hundreds of years. I realise now that the branch that my Mum comes from is a breakaway branch and the mystery as to when and why they left is still unresolved. Why did they leave? Why did they choose Manchester? Was it to do with the Industrial Revolution, and were they chasing jobs? If so, why Manchester and not Nottingham or Birmingham?

That is the kind of question that ignites my soul and fires my imagination but is probably never going to get answered now. Sadly there are just too many loose ends and stories have sadly died with the generations.

Having brought to mind our excursion to Youlgreave that day I think it is distinctly probable that we will make a return visit very soon.

 

 

A-Z April 2012

X is for ….X?


X is for ….X?

I’ve have spent the month of April absolutely dreading today because we have finally arrived at the letter “X”. What to write about, other than the obvious??

I have thought about people beginning with X (Xena Warrior Princess anyone?), places beginning with X (mostly provinces and remote villages in China), food beginning with X (nope, can’t think of a thing…), processes beginning with X (X-rays – had a lot of those over the years) and so on but to come up with a suitable and acceptable post about the letter X I have decided to give you a (very) potted linguistics lesson instead.

Did you know that the prefix “xylo-” denotes that what follows is to with wood? I didn’t until I did my research for this post! For example, I knew that a xylophone was a musical instrument made out of wooden bars, but I didn’t really appreciate that the word is a mashup of “xylo” meaning wood, and “phone” meaning sound. I kind of knew it, but I didn’t kind of know it, if you get me? I just found out that the word for printing using wooden blocks is “xylotypgraphic”. Another one for you is “xylophilus” meaning a lover of wood, and finally, my favourite new word EVER is “xylomancy” meaning divination using wood. Brilliant!

Whilst researching this post I couldn’t really ignore the “xeno-” prefix because apart from there being so many of them in the dictionary, the only long word I could think of (pre-research) was “xenophobia”. I didn’t really think you’d be interested in a whole post about that word, but I couldn’t really leave it out neither. It’s another mashup, this time of “xeno” meaning “something/one strange or foreign” and “phobia” meaning “fear of”. I knew what the phobia part was (obviously) but the xeno part was new to me. There are a couple of words that stand out from the list of xenos that I want to share with you: “xenomania” an attachment to something foreign or strange; “xenogenous” meaning due to an outside cause and finally, “xenolith” meaning a fragment of extraneous rock embedded in magma or another rock. I knew that a monolith was a single rock but never really appreciated that “lith” would mean rock…but there again, I’m a bit dopey sometimes!

I managed to avoid a rant discussion about the X-Factor (yay me!) and I also managed having to write about eXcite, the indoor ski-centre near here as well so kudos to the Pamster for researching – and learning – something new for this post today.

That is one of the main reasons why I started blogging in the first place, to learn new things, so I can honestly say that today is MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!

Just as an aside, I have got my subject for tomorrow (the letter Y) but I’ve only got 2 days to think up/research the letter Z. I don’t want to rely on writing about the zebra, so any ideas from you dear reader would be most welcome.

Thank you!

 

A-Z April 2012

W is for Weather


W is for Weather

I don’t know what it is about the weather that makes us Brits just love to talk about it so much. We talk about what the weather was like yesterday, what it is doing today, what it is going to be doing tomorrow, what the forecast is going to be for the summer, whether we are in for a “bad” Winter….blimey, we always find something to discuss when we talk about it!

Perhaps it is because we are an island nation and as such we are at the mercy of the elements for so much: our fishermen need to know what storms are coming in from the Atlantic and down from the Arctic circle; our farmers need to know what the prevailing south-west wind is bringing in from the continent; our councils need to know whether we are expecting severe frost so they can grit our roads in advance (or not…but that’s another post sometime). The reasons why we discuss the weather are as varied as the types of weather we experience, and it is a great leveller in mixed company!

It’s a great topic for the newspapers and after every single news broadcast we have a weather summary. Every. Single. Time….

We do have problems with our weather, and the biggest problem we face at the moment is that so many parts of our little island are officially classified as being in drought. Even in the midst of the storms and deluge we are having at the minute, our country is having a drought and there is a hosepipe ban in many areas. It doesn’t make sense does it?? Here’s a screen shot of the BBC’s weather page taken earlier tonight:

 

All there is for the next four days is rain, rain, rain and rain. We have got weather warnings issued and there have been some flood warnings issued too. Yet we are technically in a drought?? Doesn’t make sense does it?!

Just to prove the “we all talk about the weather” statement earlier, I will tell you that here in Manchester it has rained all day yesterday, all night last night and all day again today. The raindrops have varied in size and intensity and at one point I did see an ark floating down the street, but we’re used to it here in the North West. Up here, we don’t say that we are having good or bad weather, it’s just that we are wearing the right or wrong coat.

Hope you are having better weather where you are than we are here in the UK!!

 

 

A-Z April 2012

V is for Volvo


V is for Volvo

When we were young and daft, in the days before we got married, we toured the countryside in a very unchic Volvo 345. It was ice-blue in colour and weighed an absolute tonne. We know this because of the time we had to push it to get it started one morning…

The morning in question was one summer’s day on the seafront at Eastbourne. It was the summer Kevin and I cycled from our homes in Manchester to my Gran’s house in Stokenchurch, a trip that took us 3 days to complete and we stayed in youth hostels along the way. The week after that we decided to do a road trip in the conventional sense, in a car not on bikes.

We had pretty much spent up the week before and we couldn’t really afford to pay for hotels or even youth hostels as well as the cost of the petrol so we thought we would be clever and sleep in the car for a couple of nights. We were young, we were fit and healthy, and we were up for a bit of adventure.

The first day, we drove from Manchester to Eastbourne and we thought it would be really romantic/adventurous/daft to spend the night on top of Beachy Head. If you are British you will probably know that Beachy Head is a notorious suicide spot – we didn’t know that at the time – but it is on a line of cliffs that are absolutely spectacular, overlooking the sea and in the near distance was France. Very exotic to a 19 and a 17 year old….

We had our tea in a little cafe and decided to scout out a suitable spot to park up for the night. We decided on a small car park on the cliff top and right near to the edge – we could hear the waves crashing hundreds of feet below us – and we were sorted. Back seats folded down, sleeping bags rolled out, cameras out for the sunset and the shooting stars….fantastic.

We settled down when it went dark and we were all snuggled up and generally feeling pretty good….until around midnight when other cars started appearing and disappearing in the car park. There was a lot of movement and some very mysterious noises, and of course it was pitch black, and we got a bit nervous…

The nerves very quickly turned to outright fear for some reason – nothing in particular happened but you know what it’s like when one of you is scared and the other one feeds off it and makes it worse?? Well, we’d convinced ourselves that we were about to be murdered or thrown off the cliffs or something and in a blind panic we drove pell mell down off the cliffs and into the town at around 2am.

It was cold enough at the top of the cliff but it was even colder down on the sea front but we were that scared we didn’t even dare get out of the car to climb in the back and into the sleeping bags laid out. We “slept” sat upright in the front seats under a streetlight instead.

I remember the seemingly endless stream of drunks passing us at chucking out time, but then the whole place went as quiet as the grave until dawn. It was the weirdest night of my life, but it doesn’t end there.

When we decided it was late/early enough to go and find a cafe for some breakfast and a hot drink we found the car wouldn’t start. We were tired, cold, sore, frightened and were faced with pushing Ten Ton Tessie up a slight rise on the seafront to go and find food and warmth. ARGH!!!!

As safe and secure as the image Volvo has of its cars I can tell you that at 1am on a cliff top 200 miles away from home, they feel about as protective as a wet paper bag in a high wind.

And they aren’t very comfy to sleep in neither!!

 

Romantic notions....pffft! (This isn't us by the way, it's a stock photo)

 

A-Z April 2012

U is for Unlawful Access


U is for Unlawful Access

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire. The event was staged by ramblers who were arguing for the right to access areas of open countryside and was attended by hundreds of people in support.

Previously, access to open countryside was fiercely controlled by (rich) landowners and anyone found unlawfully accessing areas such as Kinder Scout could be punished with jail sentences. The mass trespass on 24th April 1932 was the start of a campaign to overturn all that, and saw the start of the establishing of National Parks in England, Wales and Scotland. On the day, there were skirmishes between the peaceful ramblers and the not-so-peaceful gamekeepers who were hired to keep the public off the slopes of Kinder Scout.

Here is a song written by Ewan McColl and sung by The Spinners about that event:

 

A-Z April 2012

T is for “To Be Or Not To Be”


T is for “To Be Or Not To Be”

Now, before you turn off or click away, no, I’m not about to launch into a great long academical discussion about what that little sentence means. I merely used it as an example of the wonderful Bard, William Shakespeare, whose birthday (and deathday) is marked today.

Shakespeare is one of our national heroes – for obvious reasons – as is St George. I wrote about St George last year but for those of you who don’t know, St George is the patron saint of England and 23rd April is his feast day.

However, unlike the Irish, the Scottish and to some extent the Welsh, the English don’t really go in for celebrating St George’s Day too much. We do the odd parade and we will perhaps sing the odd patriotic hymn in church (as we did yesterday – yay to Jerusalem!!) but generally speaking, St George’s Day passes without much mention in the media, in the news or even (shock horror) on Facebook. I can hazard a guess at the reasons why that is (namby pambiness of the “we must include all cultures and can’t risk offending anyone by calling ourselves ENGLISH; the chance that by flying the English flag we will be branded racist; we have lost our English identity somewhere along the line?)

The question of identity is a great one to ponder. Personally, I don’t see the difficulty in identifying myself as English and just because I do so doesn’t automatically mean that I harbour any sort of hatred towards people of other national identities. It doesn’t mean that because I want to fly the Union Jack (yes, JACK, not FLAG as the PC do-gooders would have us use) I am picking a war with those who don’t.

If people were to stop and think about it for a second or two, being English means that we are the product of several other tribes and nationalities, and therefore we have an inbuilt ability to welcome and include other people from other backgrounds to our own.

Identifying myself as English means that I am identifying myself as someone who, with a mixed heritage myself, totally understands and respects other people’s heritages too. I am not racist, I am just English.

God bless all you Anglo-Saxons out there with the flag of St George tattooed on your breastbone!