All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Twenty of the Best: Roald Dahl, Champion of the World

There are only three authors I can think of who’ve always had a consistent positive effect on my mental health. Three writers, across three genres, who fill my heart with warmth and joy whenever I crack open one of their books.

Today, in the first of a three part series, I look at an author who defined my childhood. Whose books introduced me to the magical world of writing, provided me with endless memories and taught me vital life lessons we should all live by.

Given today is Roald Dahl Day, it shouldn’t take much to work out which author I am focussing on today. So, here are my twenty favourite books from his magnificent body of work:


 ~ 12 ~
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

I hated this book when I first read it. At eight years old I wanted odd Chocolate Factory owners, gigantic stone fruits and wily foxes; not farmers finding Roman Treasure, hitch-hikers and captured sea turtles. However, when I returned to this collection later in life, I found my younger self to have been somewhat hasty, as it is a beautiful collection of inspirational writing.

~ 11 ~
George’s Marvellous Medicine

One of my strongest memories of non-Enid Blyton bedtime stories is my mother reading this book to me. At six years old it was always so wonderful being cuddled up in her arms as she read this masterpiece to me night after night.

~ 10 ~
Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories

Between ‘Matilda’ and ‘Esio Trot’ I was suffering from Dahl withdrawal. After re-reading several of his books I came across this in the local library and checked it out – duly scaring the crap out of my young self and causing several sleepless nights! Monumental in that it these were the first ghost stories I ever read.

~ 9 ~
My Year

This is a little known gem that should be much wider read. A charming collection based on the diary entries from the final year of Dahl’s life. Inspiring, beautifully illustrated by long-time collaborator Quentin Blake and essential reading for all Dahl aficionados. When I think of this book I think of Scotland, in particularly the Isle of Skye, where I read this whilst sitting overlooking Portree Harbor.

~ 8 ~
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Yes, I love the Gene Wilder starring movie. Yes, I hate the Johnny Depp starring movie. Yes, I adore this book as it was the first Dahl I can remember reading on my own, followed swiftly by its underrated sequel.

~ 7 ~
Going Solo

Although not holding the same appeal as ‘Boy’ – most likely because at the young age I read it I couldn’t relate to it as much as the former – this is a wonderful book for all Dahl fans, as well as anyone with an interest in the lives of inspiring, great individuals.

~ 6 ~
James and the Giant Peach

This book used to scare the bejesus out of me. When I was five we had a giant spider living in our house, an arachnid easily as big as a Yorkshire terrier. On one occasion it trapped me on the toilet, on another in the bath, in fact it seemed to have a disturbing fetish for attacking me when I was most vulnerable! The giant insects in this book brought back many memories of this traumatizing period of my life, but fortunately not enough to make me dislike the book which, in all honesty, is impossible.

~ 5 ~
Danny the Champion of the World

One of several celebrities I’ve met in my life is Jeremy Irons, who played the father of the titular character in the 1989 film adaptation of this book. When I met him it I mumbled something about loving this film as I served him coffee. As film adaptations go it’s one of the better ones – but nowhere near as good as the source material.

~ 4 ~
Switch Bitch

If you’re not familiar with this book, I recommend not reading it to your little ‘uns, as it’s a collection of short stories originally written for Playboy magazine in the 1960s. When I first read this book I wasn’t aware of this – not that my thirteen year old self complained all that much!

~ 3 ~
The BFG

Another memory of bedtime stories are my parents reading this in tag-team fashion over the course of a week. One night, mum would whip off a couple of chapters; the next night would be dad’s turn. I also have very fond memories of the animated film that was made of this book, but again, it was nowhere near as good as the source material, which is easily one of the best children’s books of all time.

~ 2 ~
Boy

This was the first biography I ever read and at eleven years old, one of the most compelling and frightening books I’d ever read. Although I’ve read it many times since, the chapters which stand out in my memory are those detailing the corporal punishment Dahl received as a child. Being of similar age to when Dahl first received the cane, I was left quite glad I lived in an era when corporal punishment was no longer used in schools for I would surely have been on the receiving end of it more than once!

This is one of the most wonderful books ever written and an essential read for any literature lover. it would easily have scored my number one slot if it weren’t for the fact that he also wrote one of the greatest books of all time…

~ 1 ~
Matilda

For those who know me, and for a large number of those who don’t, this will come as no surprise. To this day I can still remember the utter excitement that coursed through my body as I tentatively held the heavy hardback version of this book on the day of its release, my parents only too aware of my love for Dahl’s work and how much I would enjoy it. When they gifted me that book all those years ago did they know it would become one of my favourite books of all time? That I would fall in love with Matilda and make birthday wishes that one day I would have a teacher as lovely as Miss Honey?

I guarded my first edition copy of Matilda for many, many years until the great sell-off of my possessions following my breakdown. Listing it on Ebay was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but I have no memory of what happened to it. For my soul, I hope it found its way to a home that will love it as much as I do.

Upcoming Posts in this Series
George Mackay Brown, A Poet’s Magic (Thursday, 20 September 2012)
Charles De Lint, Writer of my Heart (Thursday, 27 September 2012)

 

To honor Roald Dahl Day, do you have any personal favourites or memories of his books? I’d love to know :)

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Twenty life lessons I learnt whilst homeless

Some are poignant, some are personal. Some are important, some are silly. For today’s Top Twenty Thursday I share some of the life lessons I learnt during my years living on the street.

Twenty Life Lessons I Learnt Whilst Homeless

20. Discrimination is still prevalent in today’s society.
However accepting our society has become in certain areas, discrimination against the homeless is still rife and we need to do everything we can to stop it. After all, homeless people are just like you; human.

19. No matter how waterproof you think your backpack/jacket/shoes etc. are. They’re not!
Something I learnt the hard way after losing important paperwork, notepads of writing and clothing.

18. When ‘showering’ in a public toilet – always remember to lock the door!
Otherwise you may find yourself inadvertently flashing an unsuspecting jogger at five in the morning.

17. Ducks may look cute – but they’re naughty little tykes.
As proven when one duckling ‘distracted’ me with its cuteness whilst its mother stole my sandwich.

16. Never underestimate the importance of clean socks.
You’ll know what I mean when you try to remove the pair you’ve been wearing for three months straight and they’ve become attached to your skin. Ouchie!

Lesson 16. Never underestimate the importance of clean socks.

15. Libraries are the earth-bound equivalent of heaven.
Proof, for those who don’t believe me: Power points for recharging; comfy chairs for snoozing; books for personal growth; newspapers for education; free internet for socializing (see lesson 6); hot librarians for fantasizing; warmth for health. Libraries must continue to be supported and funded under all circumstances.

14. Never go to sleep using a backpack containing a Vegemite and cheese sandwich as a pillow.
A slightly odd life lesson, I’ll grant you, but one you should heed unless you want to wake up with a possum sleeping on your head! Note: this is not as fun as it sounds for they can be a bit cranky if woken.

13. Plastic shopping bags are not the pure evil they’re made out to be.
See lesson 19 and make the all too obvious connection.

12. Homeless people really are invisible. They shouldn’t be, but they are.
A lesson I learnt in a rather uncomfortable fashion when, on three separate occasions, three individual couple decided to copulate only meters from where I was all-too-obviously sleeping.

11. Drunken [insert sporting team of choice] fans should be avoided at all costs.
A lesson I learnt the hard way following a physical assault after their team lost a match. So be careful.

Lesson 11. Drunken {insert sporting team of choice} fans should be avoided at all costs.

10. Always listen to your gut (aka. You’re allowed to say ‘no’)
There were times I went to organisations for help with crisis accommodation and/or housing where they gave me the choice of “it’s either this boarding house in the middle of nowhere populated with drug addicted ex-cons or the streets”. In spite of my gut I felt guilt tripped into taking the boarding house. Another lesson I learnt the hard way.

9. Never eat the soup van sausage rolls. There is a reason why no-else does!
This was learnt after a six-hour vomiting session. Given no-one wanted to eat them, I fear I wasn’t alone.

8. Even though it should be, homelessness isn’t a priority for politicians.
During the 2010 Australian Federal Election there was no mention of homelessness. Why? Because for the only voters who counted, homelessness is something that will never affect them. They obviously haven’t learnt lesson 5 yet.

7. Never be afraid to ask for help.
It’s hard to fight your way out of homelessness by yourself but the humiliation of asking for help can be just as bad. The latter option, however difficult, is always the best avenue to take. You may not believe it, but there are always people out there who care, who will help you find ways you can get back onto your feet.

6. Social networks are vital.
Isolation can be devastating. Few can understand the psychological impact of spending every minute of your life by yourself, nor would I ever recommend it. For a homeless person, social opportunities are few and far between, which leaves social networking sites their only option. If you can forge past the occasional abuse you will find a supportive community that will welcome you with their arms wide open. For any homeless people reading this, may I suggest We Are Visible as a starting point.

Lesson 6. Social networks are vital.

5. Never take your life for granted. Ever!
I never expected to become homeless. And I’m willing to bet that you don’t think it’ll ever happen to you either. But let me tell you – all it will take is one or two sudden events and you too could find yourself sleeping in a park with a possum on your head. Unless you learnt from lesson 14, that is.

4. Homeless people are decent, kind and compassionate human beings.
Not the violent, drug abusing, alcoholic psychopaths middle-class liberal commentators would have you believe. From my time on the street the homeless individuals I came across were always helpful, generous people who would go out of their way to assist you. Hell, one even saved my life once!

3. There is always someone worse off than you.
Have you had your daily moan about the cost of your coffee or the fact your train was seven minutes late? Have you taken to Twitter to have a wee vent about how your local bookstore has sold out of Fifty Shade of Grey or your partner farting under the covers again? Let me assure you, your life could be so much worse!

2. Don’t stop believing!
The one thing you never want to lose is hope. So find something – anything – to keep you warm during those long cold winter’s nights. Even if that means gathering together a posse of homeless people to perform your very own Glee style rendition of this classic song!

1. A smile is the greatest gift you can give.
If you take the time out of your life to have a chat and a smile with a homeless person, you’ll not only be making their day a little better, but your own as well.

Lesson 1. A smile is the greatest gift you can give.


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My top twenty animated films of all time!

This is the first entry in my Top Twenty Thursdays. Every week I (or you, should you wish to offer a suggestion) will nominate a category and present to you my definitive top twenty.

Some of my choices may be arguable, some spot on, others down right laughable, but they’re my choices. What are yours?

Today we have my top twenty animated films of all time; CGI, stop motion, cel…as long as it’s animated and feature-length, it’s allowed to be included.


The Top Twenty…

20. Basil the Great Mouse Detective; a wonderful take on the Sherlock Holmes legend, Disney style.
19. Bolt; a surprisingly brilliant movie, fantastic fun for the whole family.
18. When the Wind Blows; an animated film depicting a nuclear attack, a must see.
17. Monster House; an under-rated, darkly comic masterpiece – complete with an animated Maggie Gyllenhaal. Woo hoo!
16. Toy Story; a modern classic.
15. The Iron Giant; an often forgotten gem, based on the Ted Hughes poem.
14. Up; a beautiful, haunting and intelligent family friendly animation.
13. Paprika; an eye-opening, sophisticated, challenging, disturbing Japanese animation.
12. Pinocchio; a classic Disney film that should need no introduction.
11. Toy Story 2; in my mind, one of the few sequels that betters the original.

The Top Ten…

10. The Land Before Time

It may have spawned dozens of un-necessary sequels but the original The Land Before Time is one of the animated classics of my childhood. Since first watching it in a cinema in Aberdeen I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it since.

9. Monster’s Inc

I infamously (and somewhat embarrassingly) wept whilst watching this film with Louise. She never let me forget it – and I don’t want to – just thinking about that emotional farewell is setting the tears welling.

8. Sleeping Beauty

Just as I’ll always be a fan of the original fairytale. Just as I’ll always be a fan of Anne Rice’s adult interpretation. I will always be a fan of this stylised, beautiful Disney film.

7. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

A relatively recent film, I’ll grant you, but when a film possesses the originality, verve and energy that this does it’s a worthy addition. Until a few months ago I’d never seen it; I’ve now watched it dozens of times and never grown tired of it.

6. Grave of the Fireflies

If you thought When the Wind Blows was dark, wait until you see this remarkable offering from Studio Ghibli. The less you know before entering into it the better, but it’s based in Japan during WWII – and you’ll need lots of tissues.

5. Tangled

Perhaps it’s because the magnificent Zachary Levi provides one of the voices. Perhaps because, in comparison to other Disney Princesses, Rapunzel kicks serious ass! Whatever it is, I adored every second of Disney 50th animated feature. Especially the closing animated titles.

4. Whisper of the Heart

When people think of Studio Ghibli they think of Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and numerous other animated classics from this highly regarded studio. Alas, Whisper of the Heart is not one that comes to the minds of most, but it should be. Simple, engaging, touching and funny. I dare you not to sing along with country classic Country Road.

3. Beauty and the Beast

For over a decade this film rested at the top of my list but over the last several years has been notched down to third place. Regardless, it remains one of the most beautiful animated films of all time, easily deserving its Oscar nod for Best Picture. However, when I watch the film these days, I can’t help but look at it from a more adult perspective. And with Stockholm Syndrome coupled with the abusive behavior of the Beast, I find it unnerves me somewhat. What exactly are we teaching our children?

2. How To Train Your Dragon

The film that drop kicked Beauty and the Beast into second place! I cherished everything about this film; from the wonderful character design, to the inspired realisation of the dragons, to the stirring John Powell score, to the fantastic voice cast, to the ‘Spot David Tennant’ mini-game. If you haven’t seen it, go NOW! If you have seen it, watch it again. And then track down all the spin-off short films and prepare yourself for the Hammerhead Yak!

1. My Neighbour Totoro

Whilst sharing a tub of mint-choc-chip in a hotel room in Glasgow, Sammi and I were nattering away when she nonchalantly stated although she’d heard of it, she’d never seen this movie. On such stunning news, I found myself unable to prevent throwing a spoonful of ice-cream at her! How could anyone not have seen this film? In the few moments of silence that followed I thought I may have pissed her off, until a rather amusing ice-cream fight fed into a viewing of this masterpiece.

To put it bluntly, it is flawless.

To put it not so bluntly, it spanks the ass of all animated films and sends them to bed to think about what they’ve done wrong.