Welcome to Night Vale

A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.

So…I may have acquired a new obsession.

Yes, I’m a bit late to the game, but I have finally discovered Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s Welcome to Night Vale. Nigh indescribable, Welcome to Night Vale is a fictional news podcast, detailing life in the desert village of Night Vale. This, I know, doesn’t sound particularly exciting.

However, life at Night Vale is very far from normal. The reality as presented in this “news broadcast” is like that of a dystopian nightmare. Imagine a world (or a single town) where all conspiracy theories are true, and take it from there. The city is governed like any normal town: there’s a mayor, the government, the sheriff, civil servants, city council, the sheriff’s secret police, etc. There are, however,  also Hooded Figures, angels, a forbidden dog park, and Mountain Believers.

The City Council announces the opening of a new Dog Park at the corner of Earl and Somerset, near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the Dog Park. People are not allowed in the Dog Park. It is possible you will see Hooded Figures in the Dog Park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the Dog Park. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the Dog Park, and especially do not look for any period of time at the Hooded Figures. The Dog Park will not harm you.

The one thing that roots Welcome to Night Vale in our reality is the main overarching plotline: the relationship between our radio host Cecil, and newcomer Carlos. Beautiful, perfect Carlos, who, based on his behaviour and reactions to local events, I’m pretty sure comes from our reality.

In the first year of the show, host Cecil has an adorable, starstruck crush on scientist Carlos. Always using the adjectives “beautiful” and “perfect” when describing him, freaking out when beautiful, perfect Carlos gets his beautiful, perfect hair cut – Cecil is smitten. As he is our protagonist, and for a long time the only voice from Night Vale, we are smitten too. And why wouldn’t we be? Although their world and lives are different from ours, both Cecil and Carlos are sympathetic characters, whose feelings we rarely see but when we do, are genuinely touching.

With the show running the risk of alienating the audience by moving away from the world we know further and further, the romance between Cecil and Carlos is the one thing that grounds us in their world. It is the most normal thing to happen in the show! It is impossible not to squeal (at least on the inside) when their relationship progresses, and I cannot imagine anyone unable to get invested. It being a relationship between two men is completely incidental and insignificant, which is wonderfully refreshing.

So, do you enjoy listening to the radio?
Do you enjoy listening to the news?
Are you into dystopian sci-fi, or conspiracy theories?
Do you need help to believe in love?

Then let me help you out: https://soundcloud.com/nightvaleradio/1-pilot-1.

May you too find love in this dark desert. May it be as permanent as the blinking lights, and as comforting as the dull roar of space. Good night, Night Vale. Good night.

Cecilos fanart by xxblackasdayxx from xxblackasdayxx.deviantart.com

A Day Trip to Soho

Although life in Cambridge is wonderful, and I am equally in love with my friends and my work, sometimes I have to leave the bubble. So after hearing about a secret cocktail bar in Soho with a children’s literature inspired menu, my partner and I figured we might as well go for a cheeky day trip.

Lucky for us, the connection between Cambridge and London is very good, so as soon as we decided to go we found ourselves on a train. After a cold walk through London town, we made it to Poland Street, Soho.

And walked straight past the entrance.

We looked up the address again, and walked past the entrance once more.

Finally, after feeling awfully uncool and trying to look inconspicuous whilst checking every single door on the street, we knew we made it when we found this:

Slightly creepy, but pretty cool!

We then went up several steps, both definitely oozing sophistication, looking suave, and not nervous at all, and arrived in a very swanky, very crowded bar. We were told there was only a standing space for us at the moment (turned out this really was 1 standing place for 2), but we’d be seated soon. Oh, and did I mention that this was at 3 in the afternoon?

All of the nerves, the waiting, and people were instantly worth it when we were handed the menu. The menu is just as classy and cool as the place itself, beautifully illustrated in the style of a children’s novel. The lining is reminiscent of a primary school journal, and although this was all obviously focus grouped and highly stylized, it strangely felt organic and natural.

A fun menu mini game was to find all the references to the Blind Pig

Two things worked against us here: firstly, we are by no means cocktail experts and had not heard of a lot of these ingredients. Secondly, all of the cocktails sounded adorable and were illustrated appealingly beautifully. Making a decision was difficult.

After eyeing up what the people around us were drinking, we managed to make a decision. I went for the Hunny Pot, and my partner for the Half a Pint o’Buttah.  (This was most definitely a difficult choice, as the Jar of Dreams is served with light-up ice cubes.)

The presentation killed it and the drinks were delicious.

Was it ridiculously expensive? Yes. Then again, this is Soho we’re talking about, so considering the costs of running the place I suppose we aren’t talking about extortionate pricing here. The strange thing to us was that while we were comfortably seated and taking our time to enjoy our drinks, the people around us appeared to come there to smash in one drink – within 10 minutes most of them would be gone.

Because of the great connection to London it is so easy for a Cambridge student to escape the bubble, if only for an afternoon. To all who have the same option, or who happen to be in London anyway, I highly recommend stopping by the Blind Pig. If you’re worried about spending that much on only a drink, I say to you: save money by walking from the station to Soho instead of taking the underground. You’ll be able to explore the city a bit, feel refreshed by a doable walk, and feel less guilty about treating yourself to a fancy, delicious drink!

Come Monday, it’s back to the bubble and work again. Especially in stressful environments like Cambridge it’s so important to relax and unwind, and it’s so hard to justify it to yourself. Feel free to treat yourself every once in a while and remember to take time to be delightfully unproductive. In the words of Milne,

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

It’s okay to go on day trips too, though!

Nation – Terry Pratchett

That’s what the gods are! An answer that will do! Because there’s food to be caught and babies to be born and life to be lived and so there is no time for big, complicated, and worrying answers! Please give us a simple answer, so that we don’t have to think, because if we think, we might find answers that don’t fit the way we want the world to be.

Rarely does a book come along that is both light and intensely challenging – Terry Pratchett’s Nation is one of these kinds books.

The story is as follows: Mau is a boy from Nation, undergoing a rite of passage on an island by himsel when a tsunami hits and wipes away everything and everyone he knows and loves. English girl Daphne gets shipwrecked on the same shore. Together, but separated by language, culture and religion, they have have to build a new Nation and survive. Why would the Gods allow this to happen? What is the meaning of this suffering?

There’s a reason Pratchett writes “Thinking. This book contains some. Whether you try it at home is up to you.” This book is so highly philosophical and painful, as two young people survive and are faced by tragedy. Mau has to bury everyone he knows, and lead the survivors in the rebuilding of Nation. But what is Nation? When everyone who lived the culture but one has died, can such a thing as “Nation” still exist? Also, is there a God(s)?

Yet even though the topics this book handles are very sophisticated and incredibly heavy, it does have typical Pratchett humour throughout. He makes fun of religion, the idea of Empire, the English, and succession. That said, he takes Mau, his musings and suffering, and his world very seriously. Because of this, the comic relief comes in the form of Daphne, or rather, her education and “good breeding”.

“You are very clever,” said the old man shyly. “I would like to eat your brains, one day.”
For some reason the books of etiquette that Daphne’s grandmother had forced on her didn’t quite deal with this. Of course, silly people would say to babies, “You’re so sweet I could gobble you all up!” but that sort of nonsense seemed less funny when it was said by a man in war paint who owned more than one skull. Daphne, cursed with good manners, settled for “It’s very kind of you to say so.”

The writing is witty and poetic, like most Pratchett novels, but unlike most of his other work the tone of this one is heavily philosophical and serious. You feel for Mau, and as you enter his mind you are forced to face the same questions and issues. Can you believe in the Gods when they wiped out everything you knew and loved? Is it possible to rage against them if you do not believe?

The chemistry between the characters is wonderful though, and it is not all misery and suffering. Overall, I highly recommend this book. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will warm your heart as you ponder the nature of life and the purpose of death.

Terry Pratchett, if I could I would quote the following back to you:

No more words. We know them all, all the words that should not be said. But you have made my world more perfect.

Although you never had a chance to know, you mean a lot to me. Thank you.