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Posts have been running a little dry recently as I’ve been away; Sark Folk Festival last weekend, and the weekend prior to that, Glastonbury. My recovery has been slow and difficult, and while there was much fun to be had, I just don’t feel human anymore.

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Glastonbury 2016 was a lot tougher than previous years (I blame the mud)

But the reason for this post is not an opportunity to complain about the “Great British Summer”. A couple of months ago I entered a small writing contest, hosted by author Curtis Bausse, who challenged writers to submit a short piece based on the following passage from his book The Cats);

A long time ago, when life was tolerable, almost good, he had two cats that kept him company. How old was he? Seven? Eight? Before his father began to question the worth of his existence. Back then, presumably, he was cute, almost as cute as the tabbies. He never knew what happened to them but they disappeared, both of them, all of a sudden, and he was left only with an inconsolable sadness.

More information on the contest can be found on Curtis’s site here. I chose a rather dark take on the passage, detailing a rainy night in a diner for the central character as he returns to the hometown that brought him so much pain, for the funeral of his estranged father. (Note, I haven’t actually read the book of which the extract is taken from.)

I did not win, but a group of us – around 20 – impressed Curtis, and guest judge Atthys Gage, enough to suggest bringing our selected stories together to create an anthology.

The title is to be decided (it will be cat themed due to the subject matter), and several rounds of proof-reading are currently underway, but I don’t think the finished anthology is too far off. There will be no profit gained for each participant (anything earned from the project will be going to charity), but that was never the point. It’s been flattering to be selected and involved, and so beneficial to be working and learning from like-minded people. It’s a small-scale project but I hope to learn a lot from the experience.

Once more is known, perhaps a release date and title, I will post another update, and of course will announce when it is done and available to purchase. Like I said, it’s not a huge deal but this will be the first time a piece of my work has been ‘published’ in anything other than this blog, so personally, I’m really excited going forwards.

“Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”

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James Brolin (left) plays Blane, a frequent visitor of West World who brings his recently divorced friend Martin, played by Richard Benjamin, for the first time to let off some steam. Apprehensive at first, Martin soon starts to enjoy himself.

Before creating a theme park full of dinosaurs which turned on its visitors (Jurassic Park, 1990 – and the subsequent Spielberg adaption in 1993), Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, released in 1973. A similar situation in some ways – the attractions of an amusement park end up killing the visitors. Delos is a state-of-the-art, hyper realistic amusement park for adults, with three themed ‘worlds’ to explore, depending on the visitors preference: Roman World, Medieval World and the titular West World – a Western themed area where for $1000 a day, visitors can live in an authentic experience of the lawless, thrilling cowboy lifestyle of the West.

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Androids populate West World to give a highly authentic experience – they can be killed in brawls and showdowns but are programmed to always ‘lose’ to the guests, ensuring no visitors are ever in danger of harm.

The three ‘worlds’ in Delos are populated by androids who with the latest technology are modelled to look and behave like their human counterparts from the selected era. So in Westworld, there are sheriffs, bartenders, prostitutes and outlaws. These androids are scheduled to behave in a certain way each day, serving guests, cheating at poker, starting bar fights and engaging in quick draw pistol showdowns, to create a fully interactive world for the visitors. The androids are programmed to never harm guests – they will always lose gunfights and when shot they bleed and do not get back up, dragged away by park workers to be repaired and returned to service for the next day. While Blane has visited West World several times, it is Martin’s first visit and at first he doesn’t seem won over despite the astounding technology. But after shooting an android (Yul Brynner’s ominous Gunslinger) over a disagreement over a spilt drink, and later visiting a brothel where the pair sleep with two attractive androids, Martin is enamoured by the feeling of being a real cowboy.

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Every night the damaged androids are fixed and analysed, before being wheeled back out for the next day of wild west activities.

Predictably, things go wrong. An android rattlesnake bites Blane, a seductive android rejects a visitor’s sexual advances. The Delos scientists speculate that a ‘virus’ is spreading through the androids, causing the malfunctions. Initially laughed off (how can a virus spread through machines?), the problem escalates rapidly when a knight, programmed to lose a sword fight in Medieval World, kills its visitor opponent. The technicians watch on monitors in shock, unable to shut down the androids as they begin to rampage on reserve power. In West World, the Gunslinger again provokes a now hungover Blane and Martin to a showdown in the street. Blane, assuming the Gunslinger’s safety procedures are still operational, is killed in the draw and a shocked Martin flees in terror as the android pursues him with unstoppable intensity and its heightened senses.

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Yul Brynner is excellent as the terrifying Gunsligner, a deadly and relentless android who chases Martin through West World when its programming fails.

As a film Westworld is a good, if not great, sci-fi thriller. What grabbed my attention is the ideas and concepts that are raised. Man tries to harness science, technology and artificial intelligence, fails. How aware are the androids of their ‘job’? Do the androids feel used? Do they have any understanding of their (lack of) sentience? Is there any moral implication of destroying an anthropomorphised machine, when it looks and acts exactly like a real man, only to fix and reconstruct it in order for it to be shot and killed all over again? The film barely scratches the surface of some of these questions, which is a shame as it’s a concept that really interests me.

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You might ask why I have suddenly taken an interest in a film, not exactly well known, released back in 1973? Westworld is being adapted into a television miniseries for HBO, created by Jonathan Nolan and starring Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden and Thandie Newton. Described as “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin”, I’m hoping the extended format of a miniseries will allow some of the questions I raised above to be explored in more detail. With a talented cast and excellent directors behind the scenes (including JJ Abrams) I’m intrigued to see how such a concept is realised and investigated, over forty years after the original film was released.

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Sun sets on the west coast of Guernsey 09/05/2016

71 years ago, on the 9th May, 1945,  the Channel Islands were in celebration after their occupation and subsequent freedom from Nazi Germany: the only part of the British Isles that was ever occupied by the Nazi regime. So Liberation Day for us islanders is a pretty big deal.

I took this yesterday after several beers. By no means a photographer, but I was pretty pleased with this snap.

Updates (and general progress on everything) has slowed this month. But for good reason – I just returned from a two week holiday (a week in Miami South Beach, followed by another week in Cancun, which coincided with Spring Break). Too many burgers, nachos, cocktails, tequila shots, late nights, sunburn… It was a welcome break from work and the typical winter weather we see here in the UK, but I’m absolutely knackered now and in dire need of detoxification.

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Me (the goon) with some Mayan architecture (the pyramid). You can check out my instagram (add @nickjparr) which contains a few more photos from the trip.

There is a potentially exciting joint project in the works, but I’ll hold back on sharing that until more has been confirmed. But the usual updates should start flowing again soon.

Cheers!

Whilst studying architecture I did some weird things. I dressed up as a clown. I interviewed, photographed and filmed a food vendor in Camden Market. I posed as a waiter trying to serve wine and pasta with an inverted periscope attached to my face. I trespassed through a hospital (actually I did a hell of a lot of trespassing as an architectural student). Carrying chairs into a forest and to the top of a hill. The list goes on. 

One day, in my second year, I found myself down in Hastings, a beach town east of Brighton. I forget why, but I purchased fish guts from a fishermen to encourage the (intimidatingly large) seagulls in the area, then I chased them away. I live on an island and thought I had a good grasp on seagull behaviour and mentality, but the seagulls in Hastings are terrifying. There are hundreds of them everywhere, they are huge, and they eat anything and everything.

seagull image 5I don’t like seagulls. No, I’m not scared of them. I just think they’re great big bastards (I’d also recently watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds which may have had some influence). So whatever the project, or design brief was for our trip to Hastings, I reckon I used the location as a chance for revenge. Seagulls love to swoop down on unsuspecting beach-goers and grab their chips and ice creams, so I thought I’d set a trap involving bread crumbs and fish guts, before chasing them away.

seagulls2I set down seagull treats at one metre intervals from a bench in Hastings. After waiting for enough seagulls to show interest, I would then jump up and chase them away. It was cathartic, even if I did get a lot of strange looks from the locals (and a few cheers from the onlooking fishermen and fishmongers). I had some course mates photograph and film the event, without really knowing what I would do with it.

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I filmed all of this from two angles, one camera on the bench and one from the side. I took freeze frames and drew over stills that I then imported into Photoshop to play around with.

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I ended up turning this sequence of events into a ‘flipbook’, where I first set down the seagull snacks, then waited for the seagulls to arrive before springing up and chasing them away.

I look back at a lot of the weird stuff I did at university and struggle to remember exactly what it was all for at the time. There were always reasons, often loosely connected and stretching. I don’t study architecture now or have any desire to work in the field, and I will always question whether those years were worth it, whether I would make different choices if I could, and what those choices would have been. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say “it was dull”.

hello blue monday!

Blue Monday’ refers to the third Monday in January, the third Monday of the year – which just so happens to be today – and has been reported as the most depressing day of the year. Despite being conceived relatively recently (2005) it has taken the western world by storm. Yet how was such a date picked? Not easily, by any means, for the methods used involved complex calculations and hours of time from the very best scientists (it was certainly not created by a travel agency to generate sales of short breaks and holidays, and it certainly is not nonsense) to create a day that brings attention to the gloom and misery present in all of our lives, and an opportunity to compare against others; something super easy and fun to do considering the ease one can now view the shared intricacies of another’s life through social media, the what and the where and the who and the why that is superior because it can be seen.

But of course, if you do choose to celebrate Blue Monday, you can easily become overwhelmed. Don’t fear, as there are plenty of ways to shake off that depressive stupor. Stay positive, take exercise, eating healthy, and (one of my personal favourites), smile. That’s it – just smile. Yep, that’ll work. No matter the situation, there are always precautionary steps to ensure your Blue Monday remains <insert colour of choice to represent happiness>

Or embrace the blues. Go forth and bond with people over shared dislike and mutual hatred for, but not limited to: the weather, being in debt, job satisfaction, unbearable family members, the lump on your neck that you keep meaning to get checked out, old friends drifting too easily out of the field of view, the many reasons you are unsuccessful with the opposite sex, the inescapable routine that is nine to five, living for weekends that you can’t remember, a diet of grease and painkillers and alcohol, jealousy towards anyone with happiness, a bed that becomes you, latest news that continues to escalate a level of unwavering cruelty and brutality, all those wasted years long gone, the quickening and unrelenting pace of time, the uncertainty and inability to rationalise one’s life, and spiders.

So grab the gin, spark a cigarette, and raise a toast: Hello Blue Monday!

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

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fitter, happier, more productive,
confident and at ease with oneself
and one’s composition,
healthy body healthy mind,
fresh air, clean living, eat well, filter your body,
supplements and medication: good,
sloth, greed, red meat: bad,
a bed is not your sunday,
takeaways and carcinogenic commutes for
a rigged rat race,
learn to laugh at yourself,
live life with a laugh-track.
embarrassment is welcomed,
knows how to have a good time,
with and without stimulants,
moderation is key to keep
those addictions under control
(caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and the like)
admits shortcomings and failures
(only when backed into a corner)
frequent checks at the doctor
(don’t worry there’s a pill for that)
ignore the thrall of the (social) media,
read local, not world news that can’t be changed,
considers with respect that opiate religion.
fitter, happier, more productive
does today what was scheduled for tomorrow
(the early bird catches worms)
routines that never get old on continual repeat,
works hard in a rewarding and challenging career,
respect for your superiors and colleagues
they are your friends (everybody is very good friends)
don’t be stepped on, voice your frustrations,
no muttering on the walk home
alone, and in the dark, and in the rain,
disregard for authority,
un-forcefully fed shit
with a smile on your face
feels no anxiety (feels nothing)
time is on your side,
change for the sake of change
not your questionable and ever-spinning ballast
of morality and ethics,
knowledge of existentialism and personal finance,
the resolution of it all might seem far away
but keep waiting idly for an unknown and unidentified
cataclysm of clarity to bring you to exactly where you want to be.
stop outside the slipstream every now and then
and just watch, watch it all,
you are not just a cog
(you grey speck of dust)
you are not a gear in a machine,
(inutile automaton)
calm, fitter,
healthier and more productive
prepared for the future

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016