Observation is my superpower!

 

“You see, but you do not observe.” – Holmes to Watson, A Scandal in Bohemia.

 

For those of you who don’t know, my Myers-Briggs personality result says I’m an INFJ. So what does that mean for me?

Well, I’m very sensitive to criticism, shy away from confrontations (verbal and physical) and hate social events with a blazing passion. I don’t like bullies, and I hate to see animals and people get hurt. I’m very, very quiet until you get to know me. Then I’m just quiet.

I’m also a snowflake, baby, one of a kind: INFJs make up less than 1% of the population, and male INFJs are even rarer. I only know one other female INFJ for sure. We don’t get together much!

But INFJ’s also have superpowers…

Because I’m very sensitive to emotions, I pick up on mood changes very, very quickly, and I also observe people closely for those changes. It’s practically sub-conscious and instant when something about them changes and I notice.

Let me give you a little personal history: I walk quicker than average (Interestingly, my INFJ friend does the same), and for a decade of that walking, I worked in a very busy supermarket. I had to learn to guess people’s directions and movements from the subtlest movement of feet and hands and hips and heads, or I’d bang into them constantly.

So I learnt where people were moving to, and when those movements changed. I learnt it so well I can do it without thinking.

I was standing at the back of an auditorium at work one morning (That’s a thing with introverts and INFJs: we observe from a distance) and watching a small crowd of teachers gathered around a laptop. Humans are fascinating when you study the way they interact.

At one point, Mr B started talking to Miss A. I don’t know the subject of the conversation. I was too far away, and as I said, I watch hands and feet and heads. Mr B takes a step closer to Miss A after a few sentences. At this point, Mr C walks all the way around the crowd and physically places himself between them. Jealous much?

The conversation continued without a pause. No one noticed but me.

We have student teachers here from time to time. Mostly they hang out in the staff room and work. During my lunch, a regular teacher came up behind one of them and started talking to her. He wasn’t standing over her or pushing into her personal space and his voice wasn’t raised. He was completely passive.

But I noticed her fidgeting went up a hundred percent. While was talking to her, she was scratching her arms, fiddling with her pen and her hair and tapping her feet. This was from someone who usually barely moved.

I talked to the regular teacher a while later and asked him why he thought he made her nervous. He looked genuinely confused. “Did I? When was this?”

That’s one of the reasons I don’t bring this up with the people involved. They never see it themselves. I always feel like the conversation didn’t go well when I’ve tried it, so I never have those conversations anymore.

I don’t think people like it when you see something they’ve missed.

I also do that wonderful thing INFJs do so well: I listen. I listen for the gaps in the conversation, the parts where you hesitate and don’t even think about it.

A work colleague of mine, myself and a premises guy were taking a TV off the wall in the PE department. The premises guy was wondering how long it had been up there and mentioned, “It had been there before Miss J left the PE department”. Premises guy asked work colleague if he remembered her.

The colleague replied: “Yeah, I remember…her.”

I only needed that three-dot pause to figure out: “Ah. Beefy girl was she?” And premises guy nodded.

I can’t explain how I came to that conclusion; Like I said, I do this stuff sub-consciously and instantly. Best I can do: She worked in the PE department; PE department women tend to be Amazons (no judgement: Just observation), and my colleague wouldn’t pause over describing someone unless she was exceptionally Amazon.

I got that from a three dot pause.

Imagine what we can do if an INFJ talks to you for an hour.

What’s your personality super-power? Let me know!

Review: Brother in the Land

3/5

 

 

Danny Lodge is one of the unlucky ones when World War Three breaks out – he’s one of the survivors…

First up: I don’t usually mention covers of books, which change from edition to edition, but this one was particularly hideous. I feel like someone let their kid play with Photoshop for ten minutes. Small wonder YA was so unappreciated for so long…

 I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out.

The book was written in 1984, so it falls right into the middle of my demographic – I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out, right in the middle of my watching Threads and The Day After and I have no doubt it would have left a permanent impact on me if I had come across it.

And since it was published in 1984, it’s an interesting experience to see how much YA has matured since. Characterisation is non-existent and the events are sanitised and far more cosmetic than they would be today. Radiation sickness, third degree burns and nuclear winter are all off page or non-existent.

The last YA I read was Dry by Neal / Jarrod Shusterman, published in 2019, and what a difference that was…

I don’t mean this as a criticism of 80s YA. This is simply how it worked for a long time. There was no perception that teenagers could handle anything more than the slim thirty thousand words this book contains, no perception they could handle more than cardboard characters.

One plus for that shortness is that the book zooms along, event after event, with little pause for reflection or for the characters to catch up.

Swindells decides to really go for it.

Then something happens roughly three quarters of the way through: Swindells decides to really go for it. He pours on the bleakness and desperation and ramps it up. This is the book we should have been reading from the first pages, and it’s grim and sobering stuff.

Even sanitised and cleaned, it’s a brutal exploration of a war that might still happen.

Have you ever found a great book hiding behind a hideous cover? Let me know!

Two for one: Ready Player One, Book vs Movie

Books to movies rarely seem to work. People end up loving one over the other. Well, guess what…me too!

The Book

(From my Goodreads review, 2012)

In the disintegrating world of 2044, Wade Watts, a hermit teenager, dedicates his life to discovering the online clues that could win him the ultimate prize…

The OASIS is the only place to be in the future. The world has fallen apart, and almost every aspect of humanity is pushed onto a massive online, virtual reality. Even schools and public services are in there – there’s a planet with nothing but schools, for instance. Interaction is through avatars. They can be ‘killed’ (more like a restart), but nobody really gets hurt in there. Not physically, anyway.

The man who designed this became the richest man on the planet, and when he dies, his fortune is left up for grabs for whoever can solve the puzzles he left behind, puzzles rooted in very, very obscure 1980s pop culture references.

I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not particularly skilled at computer or arcade games, so the (80s) subculture that the author immerses us in is mostly lost on me. But luckily, he explains every reference as he goes along.

In fact, he seems just to drop references in just to explain them…they don’t really advance the plot much. There’s an example where Wade travels somewhere in a Back to the Future DeLorean with a Knight Rider and Ghostbusters add-ons. It’s never used again and not mentioned, so why do it?

In the movie “Signs” a character says: “…this stuff is just about a bunch of nerds who never had a girlfriend their whole lives. They make up secret codes and analyse Greek mythology and make secret societies where other guys who never had girlfriends can join in.”

That’s what the 80s subtext of the novel mostly felt like to me; obscure references that very few people would understand (or even care if they weren’t there). They’re just secret handshakes for the society the author moves in.

Fortunately, the main character is likable enough to keep you reading – you want this little underdog to win, especially against the corporate bullies who are willing to kill him and his friends. You want him to come out with the girl and the prize and some good friends. There are no real surprises when he does all three.

I have some grievances against the pop culture references. Where was Madonna? Where was Spielberg? Where was Tron? And one the author missed that I caught: Wade references Fantastic Voyage (1966)…why not Innerspace (1987)?

Also, since the references seemed to stretch back and forward decades a little, where was Potter World?

Wade calls his diary for keeping track of all the clues his Grail Diary, a reference to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s a nice metaphor, and it carries nicely through the book; as Jones discovers that the search for the Grail is the search for what’s important rather than an artefact, so does Wade discover that what’s important to him isn’t inside a computer, but back in the world of the real.

The Movie

(Watched in 2019)

For a book I felt so frozen out of, the movie was very accessible. It’s one of those films where everything is thrown at the screen, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by it, or lose a sense of where the characters were while all this was going on. Because of the nature of the film, you could freeze every shot and spend hours looking for all the 80s references, and still probably miss some of them. And a shout-out for the retro soundtrack, which is awesome.

None of the flashy effects or 80s references pulled me into the movie and made it stick with me, though. What hooked me was the portrayal of Halliday, the man who invented this virtual world. High marks to the actor playing him: He nailed social anxiety.

In the first scene where we get a glimpse of his personality, his only friend is walking out of his life. How does Halliday deal with this? By avoiding eye contact, by fidgeting and moving chairs around, by keep his voice low and his attitude passive. I watched that and said to my wife: That’s exactly what I’d do!

In a closing scene, Halliday explains – while fidgeting and playing with nothing – the he created the virtual world because he was terrified his whole life and couldn’t connect with any of the people in the real world. There’s a solid sense of his loneliness and isolation. Yeah, man. I hear you.

It was so refreshing that Halliday was played straight. This was just the way he was made. No one sneered at him, or laughed at him or looked at him weird because he wanted to go to a movie instead of dancing.

I liked that. 

Verdict: Movie over book!
Book Vs Movie: Any you’d like to see me compare? Let me know!

Movies: Disaster!

 

I have a secret vice.

It’s one I’ve not shared with many people, but those who know me best know all about it. I’m not proud of it, but it’s part of who I am.

I’m coming out with it today, so here goes. Deep breath.

I love disaster movies.

I know. I’m sorry! I just can’t help myself. I should know better. But there’s something about a good disaster movie that pulls me in. The worst part is that I even love the bad ones, where the character types and fates are pretty obvious from the first ten minutes. I even love The Core where the characters are deep in the centre of the earth…and then go outside.

The Poseidon Adventure also started an appreciation of Gene Hackman movies for me

It started for me with The Poseidon Adventure. I didn’t really understand most of it when I first watched it as kid, but the peril and the danger seemed very real to me, especially as someone who couldn’t (and can’t) swim. It was a few years later when I watched it again that I got upset at the death of…well, if you’ve seen it, you know who I mean. (TPA also started an appreciation of Gene Hackman movies for me – I’ll watch that guy in anything!)

I followed that up with Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, the second best disaster movie ever made. The 1970s was a golden age for Irwin Allen disaster movies, and they shaped my movie-loving experiences as well. Okay…three disaster movies. Let’s not talk about The Swarm, which killed the genre just as fast…

I have low requirements for watching a movie and enjoying it

There’s something delightful about disaster movies, something I can’t really identify that pulls me in and makes me sit down and watch, and even own a few of them. I can’t define why I love them, but I do have a few theories…

* Low standards! I have low requirements for watching a movie and enjoying it. It doesn’t take much to entertain me, to be honest. As a result, I’ve watched some pretty bad movies over the years, some intentionally. Some of them even had a plot! Disaster movies are high art compared to some of those.

* It’s the end! Throw everything in the air and start again. No more mortgage payments or work tomorrow! Of course, no running water or sanitation either…

* Melodrama! I love me a bit of melodrama – I’ve read nearly all of Dickens, after all, and he loved a bit of melodrama. I don’t like excessive subtext in my movies, and there’s no nuanced performances in a disaster movie: Everyone knows who everyone is and what their motivations are. Chewing the scenery is almost a requirement. I find that refreshing in a film.

*  There are no rules! No one is guaranteed to survive to the end. It doesn’t matter how high your star billing is, you might not make it. Lends an air of tension to the whole thing, I find!

* A preparation for death. Yeah, that’s a deep one. How will the characters face the end? Saving someone else, running away, or laughing into the face of their mortality? Would I do the same? Those are pretty philosophical question to ask yourself while you’re watching Dwayne Johnson muscle his way through San Francisco in San Andreas.

All this disaster movie love does have it limits: I’ve only ever watched Armageddon once. It’s a disaster of a disaster movie…more like being inside hyperactive music video. Given what I’ve just said about being entertained easily, and having such low standards, that should give you an idea of how awful it is. Avoid it if you can, and if you can’t: Run!

So break out your emergency rations and prepare for the end of the world however you wish: giant waves, massive tectonic plate shifts, angry bees. I’ve lived the adventure and seen it all.

I’m ready, baby. Bring on the end of the world!*

Do you have a love for a genre you know you shouldn’t enjoy but do? Let me know!

*(Not a serious suggestion)

Travels: Wales, April 2019

For a quick holiday we went to the middle of Wales for three days, to a place called Aberystwyth. (Abb-er-rist-with). It’s a long way from anywhere…

It took us four hours to get there from Leicestershire, to give you an idea of how far away it is. The main city of Wales – Cardiff – is a hundred miles away from it. If the only cinema in Aberystwyth closed, it would be a 140 mile round trip to see a movie!

I love visiting Wales, despite it’s strange language full of consonants. “Restaurant” in Welsh is “bwyty”, for example. Crossing the border means that all the road signs are in two languages.

The roadsigns bark at you!

Sunsets (Click on a picture to embiggen!)

 

Vale of Rheidol Railway

This was a tiny (I could stretch across the carriage) steam railway into the edge of the Cambrian mountains. Quite a view, and it beats driving!

The Old College, or Hogwarts-by-the-sea

Aberystwyth has a cool university site, but it stands empty now (I think it’s just what they want us Muggles to think), which seems a shame. It was empty when we went inside, and I would have liked to have walked around more, but I wasn’t sure I was allowed. It has a real Harry potter feel to it – a staircase seems to go up nine floors, but it’s only a four floor building…

 

Random stuff

Next major trip planned: Maybe Amsterdam!

My first buddy read

Just after Christmas (2018, for those reading this in the far future. Speaking of which, are you still using fossil fuels or did you work out crystollic fusion?) a friend of mine (Becky from blogsofabookaholic) suggested we do a buddy read. I’d never done one before, but I was up for it. My friend is smart, funny and often has insights that I miss, and I knew I’d have a blast with it. Sounded like fun!

(Note: She’ll be reading this, so I am contractually obliged to state that smart-funny thing, or she will have me pan fried and served on a bed of rice. Don’t worry…I’ll tell her not to read this part.)

I should also point out I’ve never met Becky, and only know her through emails and Goodreads and short Instagram messages. Which doesn’t stop her being my second best friend after my wife. I don’t make many friends (It’s an introvert thing) and I tend to relish the ones I have!

But I digress, as is often the case. Why, just last week, I was telling someone how much I digress when I’m writing about something. Why, yes you do, they replied!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of books out there.

But, anyway. First problem with a buddy read: What should we read? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of books out there. I had a stack of about six physical books sitting on my shelf at home, unread – and about a hundred and forty on my to-be-read (TBR) pile on Goodreads.

Becky has about four hundred in her TBR, and three full bookshelves, which is absolutely beautiful and pristine:

Less like bookshelves and more like a library. Yeah, so there’s that!

We wanted something newly published.

So we had a lot to choose from. We decided to make it something of reasonable length – neither of us felt like we wanted to be welded to a buddy read forever when there are so many good books to read, so eight hundred page monsters were out. Classics take a lot of time and sometimes they’re hard going.

In the end, we picked something YA, which we both of us enjoy reading and reviewing. And we wanted something newly published.

Becky had picked up a copy of Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman (my review, Becky’s review). We made sure we got the same edition so our page counts matched.

I’d read quite a bit of Shusterman before (His Unwind is excellent), and I’d been following him for quite a while, so I knew this was probably going to be outstanding. But Becky went one better and got to meet Neal and got her copy signed. And she got it in 2017 along with a bunch of other cool stuff!

(I told her I feel entitled to hate her a little for this. Fortunately, she knows I don’t mean it!)

So we were off!

Well…not quite. One thing about buddy reads? You start them at the same time.

Which is harder than you might think for two people who get through as many books a year as we do – I average a book every ten days, to give you an idea.

I finished one (Actually, it was the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle), and didn’t want to start something new and be halfway through it when Becky became…bookless. The same problem with her: She might start something new and be halfway through it. It’s harder to match up starting a book at the same time than you might think.

I struggled my way through readerless lunch-breaks with manly fortitude.

I decided to brave it and be without a book for a week or so. So I struggled my way through readerless lunch-breaks with manly fortitude and an iron will while I waited.

Well…not quite. I was re-reading Sherlock Holmes.

So we were off!

Well…not quite. Before we even started, we set some ground rules and got some background: where our first pages would be read, how many pages we were allowed to read before we stopped and talked about it. What we thought about the cover. Did we usually read the teaser on the back or skip it? I do, she doesn’t – but we both read the afterword and acknowledgements first, strangely enough!

One of the fun things about reading apocalyptic books is the what would you do in that situation? I was shocked to discover that some of the things I would have done were the wrong choices.

That startled me, talking about it to Becky. I always thought I’d be quite adept at surviving, but Becky made the right calls pages before I did. That’s what a degree in psychology will do for you!

It got really hard to put the book down in the last ninety pages.

We didn’t always read at the same pace…sometimes I’d be in front, sometimes Becky would race ahead (sometimes far ahead, ahem!) and wait for me. It got really hard to put the book down in the last ninety pages, and I was busting to discuss it with her when the story ended!

There were some interesting side discussions along the way about dehydration and finding water resources (It’s the plot of the book) how to make evaporation traps, does beer actually dehydrate you more, would you share or hoard, things like that.

Having a book buddy added a whole dimension to the story I wouldn’t have thought about; there are things I saw that she missed, and things she noticed I didn’t. It was an absolute blast guessing where the plot lines would go and where things would end up.

It might sound obvious, but it’s like reading the same book with a different brain. I had a riot, and I know we will be doing it again at some point (Shadow of the wind), and I’m sure we’ll do it again after that (War of the Worlds?).

And I’ve made a mental note that in any future apocalypses: I’m on Team Becky!

Have you ever done a buddy read? Did you enjoy it or hate it? Let me know!

Why are you so QUIET?

Been there, bought the T shirt.

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve made someone nervous?

Last week, a teacher at the school where I work wanted something fixing on her computer. I followed her from my office to her classroom, and while we were walking she was talking about the things she’d tried to fix it herself. I listened and analysed her body language and didn’t respond, my default behaviour unless I’m asked a question.

At one point, she turned her head towards me, raised her shoulders and gave a half-laugh. Being an INFJ and an introvert I’ve been analysing that little gesture ever since. At first, I thought it was a “I don’t know how to fix it, I’m just a girl” gesture.

(I apologise if that’s sexist, but I’ve known some women who talk to men like that. Very competent and able women who feel they can only get a problem resolved by a male by pretending to be incompetent. Perhaps – not unfairly – they think the man will consider them a failure if they can’t do everything. I think it says a lot about our culture that women feel they have to do this.)

I think my quietness made her nervous.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it a little more, since that’s what us INFJs tend to do (Seriously: I replay conversations I had twenty years ago!). I think my quietness made her nervous. Was she taking my silence as a tacit disapproval of her actions in trying to solve the problem? Did she think my silence was a condemnation of her ability?

Most people would have filled the time while we walked with small talk, but I have little time for it and remained silent. I don’t really care how your drive was to work this morning, or what the weather is doing right now. If I’m paying attention, it’s to the things you aren’t telling me, the things you don’t want to talk about, your body language and the tone of your voice.

After the head turn and shoulder lift thing, I dropped back half a step behind her so she wouldn’t feel she had to talk to me again. That seemed to work.

I’ve noticed it before that my silence makes people uncomfortable. One of my former teachers said he sometimes thought I was going to try a judo move on him because I was so quiet and still.

It’s very odd to me that people seem happier filling the silence with nonsense and small talk. Silence doesn’t bother me at all, to be honest. I’d rather have a decent conversation than an empty one.

Do you think your quietness makes people nervous? Let me know!

Pancake Challenge!

On Tuesday, it was Pancake Day in the UK. Traditionally, people were supposed to use up food and not eat it again until Lent, six weeks later.

Personally, I just use it as an excuse to eat pancakes.

And “it’s raining” is enough of an excuse to eat pancakes for me, to be honest.

Any road up, my good friend and book buddy Becky from Blogs of a Bookaholic challenged me to link books to pancakes. Works for me!

These are pancakes.
This is Becky. She is, as far as I am aware, not a pancake.

It might seem an odd choice, but I’m going with Christine by Stephen King. There’s a particular section where Christine is chasing down another car (I should mention that she’s a haunted car, because, you know…Stephen King) and the scene is described so vividly that you are right there watching the whole thing unfold. It’s a great piece of writing.

Everyone in Patrick Ness’s books is a snarker of the highest order. I mean, everyone. He writes such vivid and solid characters it would be hard to pick one from the crowd. They are all amazing wits and his characters sparkle with life, even when his stories fall flat.

Becky went with Eleanor and Park, and that works for me as well! It’s something I could see myself dipping into just to enjoy the moments!

 

 

 

 

I’m going with a classic on this one – Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities. I love the way he develops so well through the story until…ah, but that be a spoiler! He’s definitely one of my Dickens heroes.

 

 

 

More Than This is an odd, meta-fictional story. Is it really happening? What happens after the end? Why do plot elements appear just as the main character mentions them? There’s a lot of unanswered questions there…

Here’s an interesting choice: Sherlock Holmes. Much as love the stories, there’s no getting away from the fact that Holmes is an unsocial, smug, condescending jack ass. What makes it even worse? He’s always right. Curse that man and his intelligence!

But, more seriously, I could not be Watson and put up with Holmes for long. (And I love peanut butter…I just borrowed Becky’s graphic!)

Thank you for letting me borrow your graphics, Becky! This was fun!

Movies: Stand by Me (1986)

“The kid wasn’t sick. The kid wasn’t sleeping. The kid was dead.”

I can narrow down when I first saw Stand By Me to a period of two or three years in the late 1980s. I’m guessing ‘87 or early ’88. I remember which room of the house I was in and where I was sitting.

I remember it so well for a lot of reasons: My brother rented it (on VCR tape!) and brought it home with some other movies and some friends. They watched the other movies first; to this day, I have no idea what they were.

Then they stuck on Stand By Me and promptly fell asleep. But I never felt less like sleeping in my life. I sat there completely captivated by it. Hey! Kids my age! And not acting like they were five years old!

By the times the credits rolled, I loved this movie.

But there was more there. The power of the acting and the strength of the characters pulled me into their world and their search for the kid killed by a train. I had a moment of uncertainty and doubt when they fell in the swamp and went down to their underwear: I’d seen quite a few films where that happened and the characters never get dressed again, but the film thankfully picked itself up and carried on. By the time the credits rolled, I loved this movie.

It was a long time before I discovered this was a Stephen King novella in a four story collection called Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, and I was just as enchanted with the story as the film. Dig it out and read a copy when you get a minute.

Then in 1990, something happened to my brother. He was driving too fast on a slippery road, rolled the car he was in, and died.

I didn’t see SBM for another few years after that, and suddenly it had more relevance than ever. After all, the last time I’d seen it, my brother was sleeping four feet away from me. It changed from a film to become a personal where-were-you-when moment for me.

In April my older brother Dennis had been killed in a Jeep accident. Four months had passed but my parents still hadn’t been able to put the pieces back together again.

Check.

Chris:  Gordie?
Gordie:  Why did you have to die?

Gordie:  Why did he have to die, Chris? Why did Denny have to die? Why?

Check and check  again.

It’s a movie that resonates for me on so many levels. It touches the part of me that still grieves for a dead brother after nearly thirty years.

You won’t have the same experience as me watching it, I realise that. It’s a very personal journey for me, as much as it is for Gordie LaChance.

Stand By Me is more than a movie for me: It’s a memory and an experience, one of the mileposts of my life.