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Make Your Own Animal Crossing new Horizons Felt Coaster Set

Make Your Own Animal Crossing new Horizons Felt Coaster Set

I’m really very excited about the upcoming release of the new Animal Crossing New Horizons game. As there are still eleven whole days to wait until the game is released I decided to make something to get ready for release day and make a friend […]

Can We Get World Book Day Back On Track?

Can We Get World Book Day Back On Track?

World Book Day has, for many, become a cynical ploy for Supermarkets to sell cheaply made, bad quality plastic costumes intended for single use. Is the focus on dressing up really the right thing for children, their families, and the planet? So, it’s World Book […]

Animal Crossing: The Most Important Videogame In The World

Animal Crossing: The Most Important Videogame In The World

Videogames are not usually what I would write about, but as I am having trouble finding words for the other facets of myself at the moment, I thought I’d write about something so happy and pure that it really has made a huge difference to my life: the video game Animal Crossing.

A new iteration of the game, for Nintendo Switch, is due to launch on March 20th. That’s 22 days away, and yes, I am counting. This new, shiny version of the game looks absolutely wonderful, but to understand why it’s approach gives me joy in what is otherwise a difficult time for me, I am going to take you back to the year 2002. You could have made a fully grown adult in the time that has passed since I fell in love with my first little town.

In 2002 a friend on a videogame forum told me that there was a game coming out that I would definitely like, and that it was called Animal Crossing. My friends knew my gaming tastes pretty well, so I decided that I should get hold of it. A problem arose in that it had until then only been available in Japanese, but was due to have a release in the US, in English. Unfortunately Gamecube discs were region locked, so would not have played on my EU Gamecube. But there was a workaround. I had something called a Freeloader disc, a tricky little disc that you could pop into the Gamecube, fire it up, select on screen the region of the disc and the region of the console you wanted to play it on, swap the disc for the game disc and through some magic it would work. I had used it for many games before, and so I had no worries about importing a copy from the US.

The day it arrived I was really excited. I did the Freeloader trick, but it didn’t work. No worries, I was overexcited and I must have done the steps wrong. I tried it again, and still couldn’t get it right. Friends, I tried that disc 20 times, hope drifting away with every attempt. You’d have stopped at about attempt five, right? Not me. I tried a 21st time and wouldn’t you know but the darned thing worked.

So I sat with my little 14″ CRT and got the train to my new town, met Rover the cat and made myself a little home. And I played for 14 hours. Straight. I’d never done that before. My little square eyes at the end of it probably had little hearts emblazoned on them, because the game was pure joy, but the truth was, I was scared to turn it off. Yes, the game said it was saving, but after the trouble getting it to load, did I believe that? Would I even ever get it to play a again? I did. It loaded first time, every time after that, so maybe I had been doing something wrong in my overexcitement that first day.

Importantly, the game brought me joy. You may be familiar with the game series, but if you are not let me tell you that the game is the most gentle, colourful, relaxing game I know. There is no storyline. There are no objectives. You do you.

You get a little house. You meet your animal neighbours, if you want to. You might plant some flowers, collect some fruit, sell a few seashells, buy (or even design) some new clothes. Maybe you go and catch a few bugs or go fishing for some exhibits to fill the museum. Maybe you write a few letters, or decorate your house with new carpets, wallpaper and furniture. Maybe you dig up a few fossils? It’s up to you. The game runs in real time. So 8am in your world is 8am in game world. Friday 20th March in your world is Friday 20th March in the game world. The seasons follow the ones outside your window (well, in the Northern hemisphere they did, though finally there is Southern hemisphere seasonal accuracy in the upcoming Switch game).

It was a perfect little life where everything was bright, and happy, and full of humour, and it was a bit of an escape from a life that wasn’t. The same way you might immerse yourself in books, or films for escapism, this game just took me somewhere nice, and where I was author of my time there.

There was room for four people in my little town, so I made a little character of my grandad, and sometimes I’d take my little grandad character around town and dig up a few fossils, pull a few weeds, send a few letters to my ‘me’ character. Silly things.

I played this videogame for years. It came out in Australia, which made it a PAL disc, and eventually in the EU in 2004. I filled my museum with dinosaurs. I made so many little animal friends, each with a little comical personality. I played for years more.

Things in my life were up and down, and sometimes more down than up. My grandad got ill, and I was quite depressed at both that and a relationship with increasing difficulties. For me my grandparents were safety, and unconditional love, and realising I would not have that forever, and that I was seeing more of the bad side of people with the years that passed, I found myself in a bit of a bad place. And then my grandfather died. I’ve never really got over it. He was 97 or 98. How can I not know how old he was? I can’t even remember the time of year. I have wiped it from my memory. Actually, I seem to have self-erased a whole chunk of time for the most part, but what I do remember is just finding peace in this one videogame.

You could only have one character ‘active’ in that Gamecube game. So I would set off from my house, and do a bit of weeding, gather a few flowers. I kept my grandad’s garden pristine. I planted pansies, because they were his favourite. I absolutely surrounded his house with pansies. And I’d go into his house, make sure there were no bugs scuttling under the sofa, and keep the place just so. I’d go upstairs, and there he’d be, tucked up in bed, soundly sleeping with a gentle smile on his benevolent little face. I’d just stand there a while. Then I’d go off and have some fun. I’d always write him a letter in the game, every day. Sometimes just a hello. Sometimes I’d tell him I missed him. Sometimes really bad things happened in my life and I just couldn’t find the strength to tell anyone, so I wrote and told him. I visited the museum and examined every fossil. ‘Donated by grandad’ fossils were my favourite. Grandad found the trilobite.

I know other people have found little moments of connection in Animal Crossing similar to this, so I am not alone in that it has helped me navigate my grief.

Further iterations of the game have since been released (DS, Wii and 3DS) and I have played them all, and they have helped me to find some peace and escapism through the toughest times of my life. I have talked about my problems, fought them, overcome them, but some times I have just needed a bit of a break, and when I have, this bright little game has just been there. I had another world where I could go instead.

So, I hoped for a WiiU game, which never happened. When the Switch was announced, I checked every week to see if a new Animal Crossing would be announced, and it never was… until the day it… was! In September 2018 an Animal Crossing game for Switch was announced. That day, I bought a Switch. The game was supposed to be out in September 2019, but had a six month delay to give the people working on the game more time to deliver the best experience, and now it is out three weeks tomorrow, I am ready for boarding.

So, if you have seen me post strange or confusing little messages or pictures on social media, this is almost certainly what they are about. I’m ready to once again make my tiny world, and in that tiny world I shall just have a little time where I am not ill, and I am not scared, and I can dig fossils and make a little place for me that is always bright and never hurts.

Teacher Christmas Gifts: Personalised Pencil Boxes And Baubles

Teacher Christmas Gifts: Personalised Pencil Boxes And Baubles

This year’s Christmas gifts for Darwin’s teachers and nursery staff have been sanded, lacquered and finished with all the fine details needed. This year we have made each of the six keyworker staff a personalised pencil box and a matching tree decoration of wood. The […]

UNLESS

UNLESS

My little boy has a lot of favourite books, but the book that he keeps coming back to as a favourite and which has worked its way into being part of our household and part of our lives is The Lorax. Last year, for World […]

In Defence Of Cake

In Defence Of Cake

Every year for Darwin’s birthday I have asked him what birthday cake he would like. He needed a bit of guidance the first couple of years, so I gave him a few of his favourite CeeBeebies characters to choose from. This year his imagination and language were such that I knew I could give him complete carte blanche.

Darwin chose a rainbow. Like mother, like son, I guess. He loves anything with a rainbow design on it, and so the idea of a rainbow cake was wonderful to me. But, he said, he was really like it to be chocolate inside. So, between the two of us we decided on a chocolate fudge cake with rainbow icing.

The cake was not easy to make, but despite the fact that I struggled with it and that it was far from perfect, I really enjoyed decorating his cake. I do every year.

But every year I seem to get a number of people tell me that I make too much effort for a 1, 2, 3… now 4 year old. He doesn’t care what’s on his cake! He won’t even remember it. Just buy him one. Haven’t I got anything better to do with my time?

Honestly, I don’t see it that way. Every year previously I have been up really late at night, working on that cake. This year I actually managed to ice the cake whilst my husband and child went swimming. I make time, sometimes at the expense of an early night or another activity, but every year I feel pressured to defend that choice.

So why would people mock or even try to shame me for doing it? Maybe they do not realise why it is important to me.

When I was young my grandmother, Nan, made me a birthday cake. She was a fabulous baker, and she was brilliant at beautiful classic piped icing. Nan only had one hand, so instead of a piping bag she used something akin to a huge syringe, which she could guide with one hand. Every year I had a birthday cake made just for me.

What special memories I have of choosing what colours of icing I would have. What kind of cake I might like: The sponge, the filling, the pattern.

But that is not the only reason I will make my child a cake for his birthday every year.

My husband’s mother passed away when he was only a few years old. His memories of his mum are scant snapshots of immature remembrance, but one of his strongest and fondest memories of his time with her was consulting a book of children’s cake designs so that he might choose a cake for her to make for his birthday.

You know, we’ve had one hell of a year. I started off catching a common virus that, with my weakened immune system spread to my heart and stopped it working properly. I have had nine months of pain and fear that I would not even get to see my boy turn four. But I did. And I got to play out our little family tradition again.

And I know what many will be thinking. Gosh, she’s a bit defensive about making a cake, isn’t she? Yup. I defend parenting choices. I defend those tired parents who put on Moana for the fortieth time so that they can get just a bit of peace and tidy the house… or not to tidy, but to read a book, or do a crossword, exercise, nap. I also defend those parents who try to make their childrens’ days a multicoloured confection. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and whatever works best for families is great. And I defend those same choices for people who aren’t parenting. For those in relationships, for single people. You set your own priorities and what you make time for.

Ignore the people who mock the idea that you are making all of this extra work for yourself, and make the damn cake, Mimi. It makes you happy. It makes your son happy. Look at it. The pictures make you happy all over again.

I hope that family made birthday cakes will be part of Darwin’s memories for as long as he wants them, and I will work hard to be there to wipe his sticky hands and kiss his sticky smile.


Coddswallop

Our First Two Years Together

Our First Two Years Together

It’s been two years since our family grew by one. I think we were always a family, Russell and I. From, perhaps, the day that I felt like I trusted in his goodness to let go of that little bit of certainty and security of the path I was on, soon to have my own little place to live, and took the leap that I could trust in this human to be good and to care and love enough that I could uproot once more and move in with him to a pokey little cold flat in Whitley Bay. Boy it was cold. And it was so tiny! But perhaps it was my favourite of all the places that I have lived due to it being where our story began and the first place in which I had felt safe in a very, very long time.

But my favourite chapters of the story so far all burst into colour two years ago when a tiny human popped into our world, a mixture of Russell and I. This whopping great blackcurrant stained baby shot into the world at a faster rate than I could really handle it. But after all the worry and panic there lay this 9lb bruise with a wrinkle for a nose and Russell and I cradled pure love in our arms. It had not been so very long previously that I did not think that I could trust anyone to truly love in my lifetime, and now I had these two pillars of love, one huge and protecting and one (not so very) tiny, heartbeat fluttering fast upon my chest, and I knew that I would never feel the same again. And our family was strong.

I truly love being a parent, but as so many people will tell you, parenthood is tough. Gosh, yes we have our off days. Tired, grumpy days, days of illness and the mystery maladies of baby and toddlerhood, sometimes that write themselves apparent three days after the screams and sobs with a scarlet rash and sometimes which manifest on no physical symptoms that you will ever detect and are put down to some mystical condition which may or may not have existed. And you are always, always doing it wrong. So says that lady in the supermarket, or the health visitor who you’ve known for four minutes of your life, or that relation who’d do that differently, or the neighbour who is old enough to remember when babies did not cry because in those days 10 month old babies did as they were instructed, and probably earned their keep down the mines at the same time.

If my little boy knows or feels anything I would hope it is just how perfectly I love him and that I love learning from him more than from any of those people. I hope that Russell and I can teach him, above all else, how to be kind, how to be thoughtful and how to have empathy for all the people whose lives touch on his. I do not expect that as he grows and natually makes mistakes for him to always be good, or that he will always make the right choice, but I do so hope that we will always have time to put three chairs around the table and to talk about how we feel and how others might feel, and the effect of our actions on others. And from him I am learning how to best see the world anew. How the most basic and fundamental feelings that I have can be best nurtured and put to use. I am tougher in my resolve to surround myself with good and kind people and to not let damaging influences into our lives without guard, and to that end I have a strong determination to stand up for my family and to know when to say ‘no more’.

I hope that our third year together will be one of greater learning and growth. I hope it will be full of rainbows and colour, but when there are grey days that we can make things better with love and understanding. I hope that that there will be laughter, kindness, and, importantly, dinosaurs.

 

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