Lost In Colour

It’s just over the edge of midnight on January 18th, which means it has been almost three days since I left Oklahoma. I would like to take this opportunity to announce that it was the greatest experience of my life.

I’ve never felt such a distinct connection to a place before. Of course, Scotland is my home and I’m forever in awe of its sprawling hills and history, but I can honestly say I’ve never really felt it. I’ve seen the quiet village of Elie and soaked in its ocean mist, and I’ve walked the Royal Mile and took a hundred photos – but I’ve never felt a real, throbbing connection. There’s so much appreciation and I love my country, don’t get me wrong – but I felt something different as I scoured the horizon in Edmond for some real hills.

For reference, this is my favourite place in Scotland - Stirling Bridge.

I felt a path open before my feet. I felt the future soar inside me, with all its possibilities and hopes and mystery. And I felt love like I’ve never felt it before, it expelled from the girl I’m in utter adoration of and radiated from the generosity and friendship of a wonderfully tight-knitted family of which I’m forever thankful for. This is the first time I have found meaning somewhere. Pathways have sprung ahead of me – call them cobbled streets to happiness if you will. Some may be difficult to traverse, others could be smooth waveless oceans of grass that feel simple and right – either way, they are roads I want to travel, directions I wish to follow – and a place has never incited such a passion within me before. I feel music and colour when I think of the future, but what shines through most is yearning. I have a plan that I want to carry out, and it’s hit me so hard than I’m almost submissive to its pull. Love is like gravity, after all.

There're honestly no hills.

I could attribute this outlook to many things on that trip, be it tasting peanut butter on a burger for the first time, or finding something of a calling card for my future career in the state newspaper – but most importantly, it bloomed and was helpfully pushed along by Cate Howell, the girl who I share a brilliantly unconventional relationship with. There’s a certain word for the kind of feelings that erupt when I think of her, and it’s somewhere ahead of utter adoration or pure respect – it’s some word that I can’t grasp at or form with my mouth, but it’s huge, it’s love, and above all – it is colour. I’m not one to make a relationship ‘my life’, or my only reason for living, but there’s such an intensity here that I can’t ignore, and it makes up such a huge part of my existence. Meeting her and feeling her hands and eyes solidified what was already solid. I have a sure path ahead of me, and I can’t wait for her to share it. Of course, I’m not entirely naive – long term relationships are difficult and require so many things from both parties. I have the maturity to say I’ve never fully recognised this until a while through last year – hell, I almost gave up on the idea of being with someone else completely. And I look forward to arguments, and blazing ardour and growth. Relationships are like  the old tree that has forever stood outside the first house I ever lived in. The branches can twist in surprising ways, they intertwine, they can be chopped and changed for ease and understanding – but above all they stand strong from a root that’s embedded in nature and constant nurture. And for the first time, I’ve realised I want to be the rain and the sun.

We're also very cute together, just fyi.

I don’t want to attribute an entire epiphany in my life to a relationship, just so you understand, but I want to scream out to the world that it is such a large part in it. It has changed my life and where it will lead, and I’ve never been so sure of something before. I’m flooded in colours and music, and although I’m not with her in person now, the utter bond between us hasn’t wavered across the Atlantic at all. I’m normally one for worrying hugely on what other people think, or indeed how they would view this. I can still take their criticisms and praise but now I realise that this relationship is about us. And what we both want is all that really counts. She’s helped to instil something of a regained confidence within me, something that had faded somewhat over the past few years. There’s a certain maturity that’s developed from this which allows me to view my own faults and want to grow from them, to become the man I want to be. It’s so exhilarating to have someone that accepts me for me, and wants to help me grow. And there’s such a connection that’s been forged from me wanting to do the same with Cate too. I’m so blissfully, cheesily and wonderfully happy it’s almost surreal. But it’s here, it surrounds me and I’ll hold onto it and help it evolve for as long as I possibly ever can.

We're cheesy and WE LOVE IT.

Of course this relationship and meeting Cate for the first time isn’t all that made this trip so fantastic. The sheer hospitality and friendship I was offered throughout my stay was utterly wonderful, and I’m so happy to have made all the new friends and meet the family that I truly felt a part of over the course of the fortnight. I found myself somewhat lost at times with them all sharing such an intense connection with each other, but it was a pleasure to sift happily through screeds of family history and scream Rock the Casbah in a drunken frenzy. I loved being a part of it for that fortnight, and that welcoming closeness with people who had never met me before is something I’ll cherish and remember for the rest of my life. There is such gratitude within me towards Cate’s mother and grandmother who accepted me into their homes, and it is truly warming for me to feel so comfortable with not just them, but effectively everyone else I met.

This man in particular already feels like one of my best friends.

In short, my trip to Oklahoma made me realise that everything I know I want in my life is within my grasp. It’s a truly bold thing for me to say that, but I know it’s true and I want to work for it. And there will be hardships along the way, I can’t naively dive into a new direction in life and expect eternal and flawless happiness – but I can vow now to overcome them, no matter how difficult things could ever get. 2012 marks a significant change in my life, and whether it flourished from a random message on Tumblr, tasting ‘real American’ beer for the first time, staying in a hotel and playing Bioshock with my girlfriend on the first night we’ve ever had together, impressing a truly excellent writer, discussing the relationship between love and gravity, hearing a girl scream at her mum in a way I never thought possible, developing an addiction for sunflower seeds and Reese’s Cups – and of course, finally being with Cate and sharing her life as we watched the movie that brought us together and sat beneath stacks of glowing lights – I can honestly say that the direction that I’m going is the right one, and I’ll be surprised if I ever stray from the wonderfully promising path that lies before me.

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Dark Souls & Skyrim: A Comparison

By browsing through various game of the year polls on the internet and casually unsubscribing from a huge influx of rabid social networking outbursts of Bethesda-worshipping crazies, it is clear that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the most hyped, played and loved games of 2011. The world has seen a wealth of FUS DO RAH (or whatever it is), arrows to the knee and Norse warrior helmets poorly photoshopped onto random memes. And it’s good. Skyrim has been a fantastical hit, praised for its hugely immersing world that’s utterly full of life and works around you (minus a few hundred bugs or so) like clockwork. That’s what RPG players want. A hugely open environment in which you are literally free to do anything you like, whether it’s slaying dragons or sifting through avalanches of gorgeously detailed back story that constructs an alive and vivid world. Bethesda, and Skyrim have achieved this to a grand scale. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game and I can already see how vast the world is, and I can admit that the sheer scale and amount of description it contains is and will be hugely intriguing. However – and this is something of a biased opinion given that I’m nowhere near into Skyrim, I’d like to make that clear – despite this trove of visual and descriptive gameplay I’m offered, I find myself somewhat disinterested entirely in Bethesda’s blockbuster.

Unabashedly stunning, but is it enough?

For me, 2011 has been a fantastic year for gaming. Whether I’ve been picking up remastered classics or trying something new entirely, I can safely say that this year has been hugely important in the gaming industry. However, it seems that most of my time spent playing games has not been spent on Uncharted 3 or Arkham City (which I’m yet to pick up, admittedly), or Deus Ex – but on something of an overlooked (and I say that with my own social circle in mind) little soul-destroying gem named Dark Souls, the follow up to 2009’s gruelling Demon Souls.

Soul-destroying I hear you cry? Yes. Dark Souls is difficult, brutal and punishing. As if to to add insult to injury, you begin as an undead to set out on a sprawling, and genuinely tough journey – the finer details I’ll leave out for spoiler reasons. You’re given a broken hilt of a sword and somewhat vague gameplay techniques to begin with before you’re thrown into a world of dark and an endless repetition of death and anxiety. Enemy encounters are in real time, and provide a large level of challenge even for seasoned RPG veterans. These encounters are given to you in abundance between bonfires, which act as both save points and a switch to respawn every normal enemy you’ve just dragged yourself through. Never before will you have been so glad to see a tiny lick of flame in a dreary and dark world. These act as ‘bases’, and while you rest there your health restores fully (as does your ‘Estus’, which acts as the game’s primary source of HP regeneration) and you can upgrade or repair equipment.

Cherish this.

From a gameplay standpoint, Dark Souls is almost flawless. The real time combat requires genuine skill and concentration, and little help to perfect parries or critical ‘backstabs’ is given. You as a player, are thrust into this world with a only a vague understanding of its central mechanics. In fact, the only mechanic you will gain absolute confidence in will be dying. Normal mob encounters can be fatal if you’re not prepared – and the bosses are a wholly different experience. You will die. You will die over and over, and these towering monstrosities will incite mind-numbing rage and expletives you thought you could never muster. Dying will become routine, and through this you are forced to learn and adapt so you can utterly destroy the two massive gargoyles that have been pulling you into the brink of ragequitting all day. There is no hand holding in Dark Souls, and that’s what is so wonderful about the game as a whole.

Don't even get me started on these two.

The same player driven approach is also applied to the storytelling of Dark Souls. On the surface, you are given just over nothing to truly understand what exactly your aim in the game is. You’re given a vague, partially correct prompt by the first NPC you ever come across in the game, and the game gives you little else to work with. Everything is subtly added together through a wealth of item descriptions and NPC interactions – the latter sometimes being all together useless. NPCs have their own story along with you that constantly requires your attention, else you risk missing an important nugget of information or a new spell to fiddle with. What’s more is that these side characters genuinely feel as much a part of your experience as your controlled character does, and when you find out that you could have helped them when you didn’t you’ll almost feel as crushed as you were by the initial Asylum Demon’s hammer.

It’s this player driven approach that really emphasises just how much of an excellent game Dark Souls is. Not that I’m speaking from a wealth of experience, but this game manages to highlight what was once staple in RPG franchises. Do we all remember the first time we played Final Fantasy I? We were thrown into an encounter-every-step world with almost no backstory to be seen. And although the two are incomparable given that they’re completely different franchises, it’s important to see that Dark Souls is bringing back so many older elements of a genre that I’ve loved through childhood and onwards. Though much of the story is vauge and little is given to you without you as a player looking for it, I can only take this as a pro of the game, and it is a stark contrast to Skyrim. Both present their worlds in completely different manners, and my personal belief is that Dark Souls’ method is far more immersing, which is somewhat ironic given that Skyrim’s given tagline is just that. Less is better, and Dark Souls commits to this through its almost confusingly vague story, that is left to you as a player to understand. Skyrim’s level of detail is still striking in its own way, but there is almost no room for interpretation. Everything is given to you if you want it, and it’s here where I think Dark Souls excels.

This NPC has a particularly upsetting storyline should you wish to pursue it.

Of course, something like a person’s taste in games is completely subjective, and Skyrim has its pros too. Dark Souls’ list of cons (which I suppose can be applied to other games as well) is limited by what you as a gamer can take. The crushing difficulty and vast melancholy that results is not everyone’s cup of tea. Yet, it’s through this that the real shining force in Dark Souls is mustered – relief, and a following sense of utter victory. Few games have made me feel so proud of myself than this one has, and although I’m not far enough into Skyrim to make much of a comparison, I can safely say I’ll probably feel the exact same way after I’ve completed the latter. That is assuming I’m not drawn back in by Dark Souls’ grim and unrelenting charm.


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Re-Introductions May Be Necessary

Hi, I’m Mark McKeich and I’m terrible at blogging. While not completely true, I have taken a massive break between posting and managed to miss two seasons, which is something quite spectacular. It’s been exactly four (five? I don’t know what counting is) months since my last post, and, I would like to share this with you all – I am gloriously happy.

Have you ever sat down and realised, ‘huh, my life seems to have taken a rather nice turn recently’? I have – and it came as something of an epiphany when I was happily waiting on some ravioli to microwave. And it resulted in skipping down my (new) flat’s hallway, and an unwarranted and sudden euphoric burst of wonder. Somewhat frightening and sporadic at first, and I’ll admit, completely sudden (the past month has been full of such spectacular incidents) – twas a warm and sugary feeling, which the pretty much horrific tasting microwavable ravioli did nothing to qualm. I, Mark McKeich, if you’ll pardon the reference, am exactly where I want to be. And it’s nothing short of lovely.

So, four months have passed. My summer was something of a colourful haze – I’ve never had so much fun doing literally nothing for three whole months. I spent the majority of my time with ‘The Wolfpack’, kicking back, relaxing, jamming – basically the exact opposite of what I said I would do (which was, ‘MARK GET OFF YOUR ASS AND GET A JOB. I did look. Promise.). Over the summer I got far closer to my friends, made one or two new ones, and just had a blast, to be perfectly honest. Sure, there was the odd flutter of drama, there was crushing, there were quiet days of nothing – but all in all it was fantastic. Should probably have told you all about it sooner, but I’ve been so not busy it’s been difficult to fit blogging into my schedule.

And here I am now, on the way to winter, at the end of my fifth semester – which, by the way, has been all kinds of interesting. It’s been difficult and stressful, but I can actually (and finally) say with confidence that I’m really learning new things. I’ve been coming out of classes actually feeling somewhat fulfilled, which is surprising when you look at my supreme last minute reading and general lecture evasion, but hey, WE ALL LEARN DIFFERENTLY. Ahem. Seriously though, it’s been difficult, but the slog through will be worth it. It’s like playing Dark Souls, minus the whole being undead and getting constantly destroyed by monsters thing. It’s felt like that a few times though.

So here I am. Tailing off the cusp of winter. And I’m happy. It might be that I’m always happy during winter. It might be that I can wear a jacket and a scarf and be warm and jolly. It might be that it’s Christmas in a few weeks. It might be that my band are really starting to get somewhere, and I’ve made a fantastic new set of friends this semester (and wholly solidified relationships with the others too). It might be (and probably completely is) that I’ve met somebody absolutely fantastic who sets off fireworks everywhere whenever I speak to/look at/think of her. Adding to that, it might be that I’m seeing her after Christmas all the way over in Oklahoma, which’ll be a fantastic start of the year. ‘Might be’ is probably the wrong phrase to use in that sentence. In fact that’s probably the biggest understatement I’ve ever written in my life. It’s more along the lines of ‘IT IS ALMOST CERTAINLY THE FACT THAT I’M MEETING HER SOON’. Lovely. I’m writing again too. Things are lovely, and it’s making my sentences unstructured and crazy.

I’m right where I want to be, being perfectly honest.

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Being epileptic, and consequently having ‘memory blanks’ because of this is one of the most revitalising feelings I could possibly ever have. I realise this is quite a strange, and pretty odd thing to put across but bear with me. I’ve often nattered on about this once or twice in other blog posts, but this feeling has been really prevalent with me over the past few days so I’d really like to just dedicate a post entirely to this.

Anyway, as most of you know, I’m epileptic. A common misconception of me telling people this is that they instantly think ‘ZOMGZ FLASHING LIGHTS’ and shine a torch on and off in my eyes for an extended period of time (I’ll level with you, that’s never happened in my life before) – but the epilepsy I have is somewhat different (and a little strange too). First off, flashing lights don’t get me. I’d literally be crushed if it were the case – imagine my life and then imagine throwing light-sensitive epilepsy at me. I’m awfully lucky that that isn’t the case. Anyway, the case of epilepsy I have seems strangely linked to tiredness and sleep – and rather than seizures (which I do get, but it’s been a long time since I have had one), I get these things that the doctor describes as ‘absences’, though I like to call them ‘memory blanks’ because that’s almost effectively what they are.

Anyhow, these memory blanks seem to occur if I haven’t had a lot of sleep/I’m exceptionally tired and I haven’t taken my tablets. And what happens when I have one of these memory blanks is that I’m usually ill beforehand and I’m perfectly aware of what’s going on – and then BAM. Whatever happens during the memory blank is completely lost on me. Effectively I’m passing out and waking up a few minutes later, because what goes on in that time frame is neither in my control or at all memorable. I’ll talk about things that have happened years ago, I’ll call whoever’s with me by a different name (though it’s usually always the same one), and I’ll speak incoherently and randomly. This is all taken from people who’ve been with me as I have one, incidentally. But then, after a certain time I’ll ‘wake up’ so to speak (unless I’ve had a seizure, which thankfully doesn’t happen half as much as it used to), with no recollection of what happened during the blank, or of a lot of other things as well. And that’s the odd thing, because the time frame of things that I’ve forgotten after the blank can vary wildly, though it’s usually just events that have happened in the past few days or weeks that I need a little reminder of.

So what can be so good about this, I hear you ask? Where’s the upside in something that’s probably effecting my long-term memory and randomly incapacitating me? Well I’ll tell you. After the blank, I can look at a totally new world. Suddenly, when I go outside, I’ve never felt air before, never seen sunlight – and it’s amazing. Literally. I’d imagine people would need to take drugs to feel like this. And of course, it’s no upside to the fact that I actually have epilepsy, and I’m not downgrading the condition at all – but I love that there’s that feeling after a blank. It’s honestly one of the best feelings in the world.

I mean, I had a memory blank not too long ago and it’s still there. Today’s the first time it’s rained in my entire life. I tasted spicy food for the first time yesterday. It’s honestly amazing. I’m obviously completely not thankful for actually having epilepsy, it’s crap that I have it and I wish I didn’t – but I could honestly say that I’d just be a tiny bit upset if I stopped having it. The feeling of experiencing everything for the first time is both so bewildering and revitalising it’s unreal. And even then, it’s not really a feeling of experiencing everything for the ‘first time’ – it’s more a combination of already seeing it and never seeing it. So it’s like a strange kind of deja vu.

I mean, today’s the first day it’s rained since I had my last blank, and I honestly think that I could’ve just walked about in it all day. It honestly, without trying to be horribly cheesy makes you appreciate those little things so much more. The feeling of air and rain and sun after technically forgetting what it felt like is one of the best feelings I could honestly feel. And I really, really wish I didn’t have to worry about epilepsy, or have it at all, but because of it I’m really thankful for being able to experience this revitalising feeling whenever I blank, and truly appreciate things I normally would just overlook.

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Farewell 241!

So that’s second year finished as of the start of this week. Handed in my last two essays on Monday, and have been since in a somewhat party-tastic mood. And woohoo, I’m going to Spain on Thursday for a week! Proper excited. Gonna link back to what I said in a previous post about this semester going so fast, ’cause it seriously has. I mean, GUH?! I don’t even know how to explain how fast it’s went, it just really has. In fact, second year in general’s totally zoomed by. Which brings me to my next point…

Today I packed up all my stuff (well, as much as I could) ’cause it’s time to move out tomorrow. And, I’ll be honest, I was more emotional about it than I thought I would be. I mean, I’ve been waiting (and silently dreading, you should see the amount of stuff that’s came from my room) for today for a while now, and I didn’t really think anything of it. But maaan, it seems so strange moving out now! I mean, put aside the fact that I’ll be back in Stirling in a few months. And put away that nagging thought of ‘but Mark’s moved house at least forty times, why should this be upsetting him?’ THERE ARE REASONS.

I guess what it is, is that this year’s really been the first ‘foray’ of sorts into being proper (well, to an extent anyway) independent and living by myself. I mean, yeah, there was first year, but for me, the whole ‘university experience’ that everyone goes on about never really started properly until second year I’d say, and I think it’s because I moved in and started having some proper fun. Obviously and completely not saying that first year wasn’t fun, because it totes was, but this year really felt like the proper starting point of my life here. And I guess that adds to why it’s a little odd, and a little upsetting leaving ol’ Flat 241, ’cause this was where I really started enjoying the fact that I was university and whatnot. But that’s not the most important thing, to me anyway.

Seeing as I’ve been in a flat almost full of international students, that means I’ve had two loads of new flatmates each semester, and, guys, seriously – I’ve made some amazing friends this semester. I mean, everyone, if you’re reading this – THANKS. You’ve really made this first year of living on my own (I keep saying that, my house is like twenty minutes away haha) absolutely brilliant. And the times I’ve had in these last two years, albeit this one in particular have been fantastic. AND I THINK THAT IS WHAT MIGHT BE UPSETTING ME. Granted, one of the flatmates this semester has been AWOL for the past like, three weeks (we think she might be a zombie now). But still. I’ve just had so much fun, and when I was packing up my stuff today it just felt so strange, and a little sad. HERE HAVE A SLIDESHOW.

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That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to next semester though, I mean I don’t even know what to expect. Just feeling a little ‘d’aaaaaw’ about leaving this flat ’cause there’ve been so many awesome times here. ‘Course, I’m totally looking forward to Summer now, but this year has just been so good! So, if flatmates are reading this right now – I THANK YOU. And if random passers by are reading this then hello. And thank you too. Bwaha x3

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Blood Shard: Demo One

Hurrah! The first demo for Blood Shard is finally here!

Here’s the link to the demo. It’s in a zipped archive so you’ll need a program like WinZip or something to access it. It’s around 160MB as well if anyone’s wondering. Few important points below –

1. YOU NEED RPG MAKER VX’S RTP TO PLAY THIS GAME. If you already have the maker itself you’re fine. If not, here is a link to the RTP. Now I’ve never done this before, so I assume you download the RTP file first then install it, then play the game. If that doesn’t work then uh, sorry. The trial RMVX might be able to play it, y’never know.

2. YOU NEED TO INSTALL THE FONT FILES INCLUDED IN THE ARCHIVE. This might not be an issue for everyone, as the fonts included are already pre-installed on most machines. Even if you think you have them install them anyway. If you’ve got them already, awesome, if not, get installing. The ‘GARA’ font is particularly important as all the scenes in the game use it.

That’s about it…? Yeah. Welp, since sharing on RMVX.net there’ve been a few issues pointed out already, but any comments/criticisms/admirations/lawsuits can be filed here.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Love On A Bus

Mmkay, well, believe it or not, and I know I say this on a bi-monthly basis, I’m getting quite a lot of inspiration to write more recently. And it’s not just on this blog either – for the first time since forever, I’m actually quite willing to continue with the as of yet untitled Vanilla Sky-esque mindfuck story that I started working on all those millenia ago. Which is good, because I did fair enjoy that and it was a lot of fun writing something that didn’t use the words ‘Zack Faust’ or ‘Necromancer’. Speaking of Black Sky (been a while since I posted those dreaded words), I had a read over like, every version of it that had ever been written before. And man it was strange!

It was weird because, although the story itself was a graceful flop (more on that later), through rewrite and rewrite the characters just changed so much. Take Zack, for example, the lead character. On the very first version of the story he was this confident, cocky and powerful soldier – a soldier that was on the side of the ‘bad guys’ at the beginning. Then, by the time I got to rewrite #5643, he was this reclusive, subtly alcoholic and somewhat weak thief, on the very much losing side of a civil war in Radiance City. It was just strange seeing that, more so that I’d already thought I would never see those old versions again – luckily they were backed up on a pen drive from years and years ago. And I mean, the character of Amos, Zack’s ‘best friend’ was completely non-existent to begin with. I don’t mean to big myself up or anything, but it was nice reading rewrite after rewrite to see how far my writing had matured.

It’s a shame really that the story was such a flop, but to be perfectly honest it was totally destined to be. I mean, take Blood Shard as an example. The story to that was carefully (well, to a certain extent, there’re still plot holes needing filled) planned, far in advance to actually starting the game. With Black Sky, most of you who went to high school with me will know that that was certainly not the case, and after I read every version of it, it was apparent that that was the reason for its failure. I think it’s something that I’d like to try again, maybe after Blood Shard and untitled writing thing are well underway. I reckon if I actually hammered out a story then it’d be nice to go back to. I think. Haha.

Hrm, that was a bit of a tangent. Yeah. So this week pretty much marks the end of second year (got like a class or two next week still and some essays due for the 16th), and it’s really kinda weirding me out a bit. It’s just went so fast! And I don’t mean just second year either, I mean that with first year included too. It’s strange because when I think about it, the first four years of high school seemed to take, well, years to pass. But these first two years of university seem to have been over in months (well, that’s probably because we’re only technically there for a few months a semester, haha). And now that I’ve picked my modules for all of third year, it actually seems like it’s somewhat close to finishing. So my target for this Summer, and the next (and indeed the Winter) is to literally have as much fun and do as much stuff as I possibly can. I might not have a load of money to do lots, but I still just want to make every day like, mean something. That way I can look back and be like ‘maaaaan that was awesome!’. And the same goes for the remaining two years of university. Michael & I are getting a flat/house, and whether it’s in Stirling or ye olde Larbert won’t make a difference – I’m still gonna fun up to the max. Feels like I don’t have a load of time left, especially considering how fast these two years have went by.

Man, I gotta stop leaving badly-packed moral messages in ambiguously titled blog posts. It’ll be the death of me.

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