Category Archives: Passions

My City, My Coffee

I have an overwhelming feeling of pure and complete contentment at the moment. Not to be mistaken for happiness, for I feel that implies a sense of giddyness and a certain spring in ones step accompanied by a most definite Cheshire Cat grin (or at least it does in my case). No, this is most definitely contentment. Calm, peaceful, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, contentment. Why? Because of my coffee.

This is quite ridiculous I know, even more so because I am not a big (or small) coffee drinker. However, this is different. This is no ordinary cup of coffee. This is the Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. Oh yes. I have had people request their local Starbucks hold back some PSL mix for my visit so it would be there when I visited (yes, again, my people are amazing). This drink conjures up so many memories of thick socks, hands in pockets, and pulling your jacket that little bit tighter to keep in the warmth. I am almost willing to call this season ‘Fall’ even though I know it to be autumn.

I was introduced to this beverage three years ago on a cold autumn New York afternoon. My friend Bobby and I were having one of our walking and talking moments and he stopped on the corner of 35th and 7th. That I remember exactly which Starbucks, in a city where this is one on every corner, demonstrates how important a moment this was. We went inside, and rather than simply ordering me my first Pumpkin Spice Latte, Bobby managed to get the lady behind the counter to give us the drink for free. Something about not wanting me to have a whole one in case I didn’t like it, but she said she would have to make it anyway so we could just have it. This may actually be why I remember it so clearly, because it’s one of my favourite Bobby Moments, rather than the start of my love affair with the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Whatever the reason, it makes for a good story.

This drink was part of so many of my favourite moments, and now that Starbucks has brought it to London, I get to enjoy it whilst I walk the streets of my own city! I feel that I am now ready for autumn. Let the clocks go back, let the colder days come. I will hold my Pumpkin Spice Latte in my hand and fall in love with my city as the leaves turn golden and wish my NYers were with me to share these moments, but perfectly content because my LDNers are with me.

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Sentimental Reasons

I have been clearing out my home for the last few weeks. Needs have necessitated space. It has been a good process, a lot of stuff we have needed to get rid of because it serves no purpose and holds no monetary or sentimental value; those items we put away that we never remember to actually sort through. There have been some pleasant discoveries too, old memories from old toys. Many moments of, ‘Oh I remember that!’ Were we really that small?

As good as it has been to de-clutter, I know that it has been hard for everyone involved to let go of some items. We have had to be ruthless in our clearing, sometimes necessarily so because there is simply no need to keep a vacuum cleaner we no longer use simply because we still have lots of vacuum bags. Why do we even have two in the first place? Other items, years of schoolwork – essays and notes, as much as you may want to keep hold of them, they really serve no purpose. They have to go.

I thought that I was doing quite well. I am as guilty as anyone of keeping hold of things. I am also probably more guilty than most of accumulating items. Books. Coins. Comics. DVDs. Ticket stubs to shows I have seen. Issues of Empire magazine. The last being what I chose today to clear out. The last being the one I am finding hardest to let go of.

In my mind I thought I would have a bigger place by now. Somewhere I could have shelves around the tops of the walls or a whole wall dedicated to shelving that would hold my collection. Every issue since 1997, in perfect chronological order. The reality is quite different. They have, for the past 15yrs that I have been reading Empire, been stacked in various corners, put in various boxes, pretty much forgotten about. Leafed through only a few times since their first reading. So why was it so hard for me to box them up knowing they were going to a new home? Sentimentality.

There is little in my life from 15yrs ago that is still in it now, a few friends certainly, but the life I lead when I started reading this magazine is very different from the life I have now, very different from the one I had imagined. I suppose those magazines are a reminder of that time. At times they were my company during a quiet shift at work, sometimes they were my only travel companion on a long flight across the water, more often than not they were insights into the world of film that I chose to escape to. Perhaps when I explain it like that my sentimentality is more understood.

Maybe in years to come when I have more money and more space than I know what to do with, when I finally have that wing of the house dedicated to books, or even just a whole wall, I will consider rebuilding my collection again; probably not. They will never be my magazines again. As I look at these covers one last time, put aside a few issues that I allow myself to keep, I am boxing up a part of my history. My story. Making room for the future I have yet to lead. And though I know it is a necessary thing, that I need to let go, it’s still hard.

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Work To Do

I have a post-it note stuck to the bottom of my monitor at the job. It says ‘SIT UP STRAIGHT!’ It is an old resolution that was semi-successful, and even though the year in which the resolution was made has since past I have left it there. Good posture is timeless. And post-its, at least in my life, are invaluable. My latest addition comes from a tweet a good friend of mine posted the other day, and it asks a simple question: What are you working towards?

The actual tweet reads: Be honest, what are you working towards? And honestly, when I thought about it, the answer was not much. Yes there are things in my life that I am getting done, there is a mortgage to finalise, and then once that is completed there is the task of redecorating. The mortgage part is proving pretty insurmountable but I trust that eventually it will be done, as will the decorating. There are also big things on the horizon in my personal life, and I find myself looking at a future that appears to be approaching a lot sooner than I intended. I am not doing these life tasks alone though, and so I am still left with the question: what are you working towards?

Since pulling down the shutters on ABM Fans I have more time on my hands. A break was necessary, it is no easy task to be Editor-in-Chief, writer, photographer, designer, and marketer, particularly when you set your bar high. I have caught up on the hours of viewing I had saved up, read chapters of Harry Potter and can even look to moving onto the next one in the hopefully not too distant future; and even, dare I say it, reading the comics I have stockpiled. There is still much for me to do, yet all these things seem superfluous. I may derive pleasure from being lost in magic worlds or vicariously moving in the shadows as I save a city from itself, however they are not my life’s work.

At the moment there is still the half-finished graphic novel adaptation that I started as a gift and then realised that in order to do it properly it needed more time than my deadline provided. So that project was shelved, to be completed at a later date. There is the new blog that I really need to set myself regular deadlines for because that seems to be the only way I can get myself to write. There are other websites that I don my “Intrepid Ace Reporter” hat for that I owe articles to. So there are words to be written, but none of these are my project. No, I have much grander aspirations.

After years of looking at different mediums from a full-length script, to short stories, to comic books, and more recently even perhaps a webseries, I think I may have found one that I am comfortable with. More importantly, I believe I have found a story I can tell. That has been the one thing that has eluded me the most, whilst I have toyed with how I want to tell my story, I have never been truly convinced about the story I was telling. There is still much work to do, I have to think about characterisation and an overall story arc and setting and everything else that makes a story worthwhile. For the first time in a long time I am excited at the possibilities this writing journey may take me.

So, what am I working towards? I am working towards feeling like a real writer again. I am working towards expanding my imagination. I am working, towards being me again.

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Pack Up the Moon

I could pack a box, an actual box, not just a metaphorical one. I could put in my notebooks, my business cards, my interview chart, all of it. I could pack up every last bit of ABM and seal it in a box waiting to be looked at in later years when I’m sorting through things I can throw away. I could dust it off and open it up and look at the ancient pieces of me and say, ‘I did that.’ I was the Editor-in-Chief for a fansite for that show. Damn, someone should have realised how good it was. Someone other than me. Someone who could have done something.

When it was time for that “See you soon” moment with the actress, she looked at me and I could feel my heart breaking as she said, “You’re the last part of ABM I’m saying goodbye to.” She slays me. It has taken me a while to say my own goodbye. I am not sure I have completely, or that I ever will. I wrote the (last) update for ABM Fans last night. A review and a farewell. It took me two weeks to put those words to paper, I hope they were enough.

I will probably never be able to adequately say what ABM has given me, only to say that it has given me, me. It has brought people into my life who make me better, and who make me want to be better still. It has given me back a city I thought I had lost. It has shown me that I can still write, that my soul does not need to be tortured to create something that is honest. It has proved that I can be more. It has taught me that I cannot be, and do not want to be, Anyone But Me.

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The Puppy

I thought that perhaps if you love something then you shouldn’t need to walk away from it, until a friend told me about the puppy. Imagine you love it so much that you squeeze and squeeze this little pup. Eventually you smother it and what do you have? A dead pup and one heck of a guilt trip. Okay, so she didn’t go that far but that’s where my mind went. Instead she said you have to give the puppy a chance to breathe and give your arms a rest. Sometimes it’s okay to let go for a while.

For some time now I’ve been thinking that there aren’t enough hours in the day. With everything I want to do the only place I can see myself making any cuts is in my sleeping hours, and I don’t get that many of those. On my lazy days I am sat reading some book or another to help me improve on all the other things I have going on. I no longer enjoy the bus ride home because I walk in order to get some exercise on the days I’m not training and because I might come across an image for my Project 365. In the morning, when I’m not falling asleep, my journey is spent writing e-mails arranging more things to fill my time. I have to keep every tab open until I’ve done what I needed to do because my mind is so easily distracted by another task I have to do. It feels like my mind doesn’t have an off switch. My life is so very full. But I am falling out of love with certain aspects of my life.

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Project365 – Words

A few years ago someone, who in later years would become absolutely necessary to me, asked for a gift of 100 images. No other instructions given, just 100 images. At the end I had two very important things, a person who I had known in a previous lifetime back in my life, and also my eyes were open again. In capturing 100 images I was reminded to stop and take a look at the world. I was reminded what it is to see. Those 100 images remain one of my most favourite gifts.

I have followed some very talented people as they completed their 365 day projects, and had little intention of starting one myself, but then I was reminded of the gift. I realised that it has been a long time since I have taken the time to pause and look at the world. Last year I think I spent a lot of time in the noise of life that I lost some of the enjoyment I found in the simple things. I want that back.

Projects are always fun but you need a challenge. I remember one particular trip to NY, I think my second, I was given a list of things I had to take a photo of – including a fire hydrant and a smoking grate. On another of my American Adventures I decided to wear a different t-shirt every day for three weeks, that one wasn’t easy on the luggage. So when I decided to undertake this project I knew I needed a theme. At first I thought of journeys. Many photo-worthy things happen on my bus journeys and I am on autopilot too many times and this would hopefully snap me out of that. However, it would mean leaving home every day and I know that on some days that just isn’t happening. Then I realised that there really was only one theme I could choose, words.

As someone who plays, semi-professionally, at this writing game, words are very important to me. I have always loved them. Everything about them, from their origin to the way the letters are formed by different people’s hands. 365 days. 365 photos. 365 words. None the same. That is the project, that is the challenge I have set myself. I started properly today, and I already felt myself opening my eyes a little wider. Taking in everything the world had to show me, looking for those words I wanted to capture. I am on my way to achieving what I hope to by choosing to do this project: I am seeing the world again.

Please visit a year of my world in words in photos: Project365 – Words

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The Last Great Comic Book Store

I found out today that my comic book store, Avalon Comics, is closing. It’s been on the cards for a while now, with the big publishers supplying large chains like Forbidden Planet and raising the prices and the lack of new readers I feared this would happen. As much as movies based on comics are no longer the geekfest they were and it is actually “cool” to know who Peter Parker is there is still a divide between comic book readers and the masses – from both sides. I have had people turn their noses up when I’ve been sat on the tube reading my books with pictures in them. I in turn have rolled my eyes when I’ve been sat in a cinema and some guy who is trying to impress some girl who’s just there to ogle over the guy dressed in a spandex costume incorrectly reference some comiclore. People may list ‘Kick-Ass’ as one of their favourite movies of this year but ask most of those people if they’ve read the comic, or any comic, most would say no. The disconnect between movies and actually reading comics is a big part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that those who want to read comics have no idea where to begin. Four years ago when I wanted to start reading 52, if it hadn’t been for my best bud telling me about Avalon then I probably never would have read it. There is no way that I would have been bothered to go down to Forbidden Planet every month (or every week since it was a weekly title) to pick it up. I can name six comic book stores in London, there may be one or two more, and I have searched these out. I can probably name you just as many in New York and that is just from walking around and noticing them. You can pick up comics in Barnes & Noble, bookstores here are becoming a dying breed. Even the chains are dying off with only Waterstone’s the last bookstore presence on the high street. Of those stores that I do know, I say with complete unbias that Avalon is by far the best comic book store in London.

I have been to the other stores and there is perhaps only one other that I would have no reservations about. The way that comics are handled in some comic stores, and anyone who has been in the comic stores here know which one I’m referring to, astounds me. I don’t know how anyone who is serious about comics would ever buy from them despite the volumes they carry and the number of variant covers they have. I took a friend of mine into there when he was visiting and warned him that I didn’t like the store and he said as soon as he walked in he understood why. Another store I know keeps their comics in better condition but the guy behind the counter is the comic book guy from the Simpsons, no lie. And the others are so in need of a refurbishment and quite frankly, a clean, that you don’t really want to go in there. Avalon is well organised, the comics are treated and stored properly, and when you walk in there you don’t feel like you’re going to get told off every time you go to touch something. I would in fact, for anyone who likes comic books, make it a point to make sure they went to Avalon to show them exactly what a comic book store should be like.

I knew nothing about comics when I started to read them. From the beginning the guys at Avalon couldn’t have been more lovely. All I had to do was send them an e-mail explaining that I was new to comics but wanted to start reading 52 and they were more than happy to get me the back issues that I had already missed and to set up a standing order for the rest of the series. My order has grown considerably since then and that is mostly due to Mark and Bruce, but not because they push any titles on me that I don’t want – far from it. They know what it is I read, and they know what it is I like to read. Mark will often e-mail me to tell me about a new title that he thinks I’d be interested in and ask me if I want it added to my order, or if he knows that a title is going to spin-off or that there is an existing storyline that ties in then he’ll make sure I don’t miss it. I would have been completely lost without his expertise during all of Final Crisis and the Batman RIP storylines. I trust their opinions implicitly. There is not a single title that they have recommended that has turned out to be a mistake. I have no qualms about going in there or sending them an e-mail to ask their opinion on things. Numerous times they have helped me to decide what to get the Best Bud for his birthday and will order it in for me.

It is not only their comic book knowledge that sets them above every other comic book store I have been in. Mark and Bruce are simply two of the nicest guys you could ever meet. Mark has been working in the store since it opened in 1988 when he was just 15yrs old and he and Bruce have developed a relationship with every one of their customers. I have been into the store perhaps only a dozen times but from the very beginning they have always welcomed me in there with a smile and a, ‘Hi Gemma!’ That level of customer service is almost unheard of. They even send me a Christmas card every year!

A friend of mine said to me once that I was like the Batman of underfunded projects. I only wish I had a fraction of Bruce Wayne’s money because I have known for a long time that if I did, then one of the first things I would do is make sure that Avalon stayed open. Unless my financial situation changes in the next 6mths though it doesn’t look like that will happen. Hopefully they’ll be able to maintain a mail order service. I can’t imagine getting my comics from anywhere else, I wouldn’t want to.

Some of the best things I have read in recent years have been comics, many of them brought to my attention by Mark and Bruce. I have enjoyed every moment I have spent getting lost in the stories on those pages. Buffy moving from the tv screen onto comic book pages. Green Arrow finally getting married to Black Canary. Bruce Wayne “dying” and Dick Grayson winning the battle for the cowl. It breaks my heart to think that so many people won’t know these stories because Mark and Bruce won’t be there to recommend them. When those doors close for the last time on Lavendar Hill it is going to be a sad sad day for this comic book geek.

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