Saturday, 25 December 2010

Gemma and the Angel - A Christmas Story for 2010

“Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” Oh how Gemma loved that old Christmas movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ starring James Stewart, she had sat watching it again last night as the child in the story quoted the famous line at the end; tears streamed down Gemma’s face, it got her every time! It was Christmas morning and she was up early to put the turkey in the oven as the rest of the house slept on. She had set the alarm for 5am to make sure that the large bird would be cooked through so she didn’t have to worry about it later in the day, especially if her guests arrived early. Gemma always felt a little bit uneasy this time of the day in her big Victorian home, there were cold spots in the house, and a few times in the past she thought she had seen a shadowy figure, just fleetingly, in the hall.
Once again her parents and in-laws were coming over for Christmas dinner and although she looked forward to Christmas, sometimes she wished that someone else would volunteer to cook, just for once! It was the same every year, she had a house full, her elderly parents, her husband’s parents, her brother and sister with their partners, plus her brother-in-law and his girlfriend usually came too. Although Gemma was happy to greet them she seemed to spend the rest of the day in the kitchen whilst they sat chatting in the lounge, sipping their Pims and glasses of wine and having little digs at each other like families do. Her husband Mick and son Johnny weren’t much help either, they just got under her feet, so she packed them off to the lounge as well, telling Mick to make sure the guest’s drinks were topped up. Gemma hated to admit it, but deep down inside she resented the family coming to her house each year, she felt very taken for granted and would be glad when they finally went home, leaving her to chill for the rest of the night with her husband and son.
Taking the prepared turkey from the fridge, she placed it into the hot oven and glanced at the clock. It was still early so she decided to log into Second Life to see if any of her friends were there so she could wish them a Happy Christmas. She logged straight into her SL home, a place where she felt safe and happy. She looked at her friends list and there was only one name highlighted as being on-line, it was her best friend Jo, so she was pleased to call her for a chat. Jo was busy at home in real life too, and she and Gemma only talked for a few minutes and then Jo had to log out.
Not wanting to return to real life yet, Gemma thought she would have a look around SL’s New London Village, it was the ideal place at Christmas, a snowy London site with quaint little shops and beautiful town houses as well as all the famous capital’s landmarks. She teleported over and set her computer to midnight to make the most of the SL fairy lights in the sim. Gemma headed for the West End area of New London where she could look in all the shops, her friend had a gallery there selling fine art and another friend had a Christmas shop with colourful xmas trees and snowmen for sale. As she got there she noticed someone on the steps of one of the houses. The man whose name was Oscar Pembrose looked a little bit shabby and sad and Gemma decided to say hi.
“Hello Gemma” he said, “I’ve been waiting for you” “You have?” Gemma answered, wondering what was going on. “Yes” he said “Can you help me please?” Gemma was curious now, why had this avatar been waiting for her, she had never seen him before, but there was something familiar about him. “How can I help you?” Gemma asked. “Well” the man said “I’m looking for my family, they always gathered here in this house for Christmas, but you seem to be living here now Gemma, and I don’t know where my family have gone!” He seemed very upset and in trouble, Gemma was taken aback at what he had said. “Oscar I’m sure you will find your SL family have just moved to another place” she said trying to console him. But he looked at her with sad eyes and said “Gemma I can’t find them, they were here and now they are gone, I wished I had told them how much I loved them all. I thought they were bothersome when we were together, always bickering and fooling around, but now I realise what a good time we had together and how special they are to me.”
Gemma asked gently “Is this your real life you are talking about Oscar?” He didn’t answer, he just opened the door of the house and beckoned her to follow him inside. Gemma climbed the steps and entered a familiar room, the walls, the furniture, the carpets were a copy of her real home. Gemma shivered as she sat at her keyboard “what is this?” she asked Oscar. He turned and looked at her, “This is where they should be, my family, and I can’t find them, I miss them so much” he said, a tear rolling down his face. Gemma felt aware of someone standing behind her in real life, turning quickly she could see it was Oscar and she gasped in shock. Strangely enough she didn’t feel frightened, he was just unhappy and needed her help, somehow he had contacted her through SL and here he stood, a shadowy ghostly figure in her kitchen.
Gemma was shaking, but managed to talk to him “What year is this Oscar?” she asked. Oscar replied “It’s 1950 of course Gemma” “But it isn’t Oscar, it’s 2010 and your family, just like you, must have passed on” Gemma had no idea where she had the strength from to talk to this ghost, but she felt so sorry for him, he must be the figure she thought she had glimpsed now and again since her family had moved here two years ago. “Passed on?” Oscar whispered. “Yes” Gemma said “Your family must be waiting for you to join them Oscar, you need to go to them” Oscar’s expression changed from a frown to astonishment as suddenly the room filled with an eerie light. Oscar started to fade from view and Gemma noticed that he looked younger and no longer seemed sad. In the blink of an eye Oscar and the light had gone leaving Gemma stunned and shaking. She looked back at her computer screen and Oscar’s avatar had vanished too, the SL house was empty, not a stick of virtual furniture remained. Gemma looked in the search menu for Oscar, but she couldn’t find him listed. She opened Google and searched for the 1901 census pages. Looking down the list she could see her street and house number and then she looked across to the occupants names. There it was, Pembrose, Mr Eric Pembrose, his wife Emily and their children Oscar and Elizabeth. Gemma made herself a coffee and sat wondering if she had just imagined it all. Then she remembered, she logged all her conversations from SL into one of her folders on her hard drive. Opening the chat folder she searched the bottom of the page and there he was, Oscar and everything he had said to her in-world.
Later that day Gemma answered the front door to the first of her guests. As her Mum and Dad stepped into the hall she gave them a big hug and told them she loved them. The draft from the opened front door rustled the branches of the Christmas tree in the living room and Gemma could hear the ornamental bells softly tinkling. Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings, thought Gemma, “Happy Christmas Oscar” she whispered quietly to herself ………this will be the best Christmas ever for me with my family!

Janey Bracken

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Step Into Christmas In Old Europe

The festive season has turned Old Europe into a beautiful winter wonderland. Cosy lodges with glowing windows peep out from under the thick blanket of snow covering their roofs. The deep crispy snow also lays on the roads and pavements glistening in the pale winter sunlight. The little Victorian style shops along the main thoroughfare make you feel that you are shopping in days-gone-by when times were gentler than today. The central square boasts an enormous ice rink surrounded by twinkling streetlights where couples and singles can ice skate and have some fun throwing snowball at unsuspecting passers by. There are two ways you can take a tour of the sim, firstly you can hitch a lift in a pretty sleigh. The sleigh takes you up over the rooftops and around the spires of the grand castle and down past all the comfy homes huddled deep into the snow swept valleys. Or if you wish to remain at ground level, you can take to your ice skates which will take you along the frozen river to see all the sights, skates are free by the way! It’s worth trying both of the tours as they are truly breathtaking! Of course you can always walk around the sim to take in the lovely atmosphere, and don't forget to visit the magnificent castle high up on the hill, which is a must!

Janey Bracken

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Aruba DeCuir's Art Gallery at Santa lemanja

Second Life is a wonderful outlet for creativity. I was recently told of an interesting little art gallery, so I popped over for a visit and found quite a diverse collection on display.

The gallery is divided into two parts. On entering the building you find yourself in a room showing works done by gallery owner Aruba DeCuir. Next to this space is another containing the gallery’s permanent collection which is made up of works done by other artists. While I was visiting I was fortunate enough to meet up with Aruba and she talked to me about both her works and the others that are on display.

Her works are what she describes as “digital art”. They are based on digital photographs and done on the computer. These pieces are brightly coloured, have a strong graphic sense and include numbers. To me they seem to be influenced by Pop Art.
The works on display in the permanent collection area are there because Aruba liked them and because they have a message of some kind. Most were done especially for SL, although not all were. She has even included objects that were not created as art pieces.

There is plenty of food for thought in this small gallery. One work, called “Pullman’s Dream” by Bonafidenutts Aries refers to the experience of African American men working as porters on Pullman cars in the United States after the Civil War. On plantations men were often called by their slaveholder’s name. This tradition continued on at the Pullman Company after the Civil War so in this case porters would be called “George” after George Pullman. The porter was expected to be constantly on duty, and was both visible and invisible at the same time.

Nearby this work is “Postcard from SL”. It shows people wandering in a sim, surreptitiously looking at each other. In one corner is a caption saying “Looking for Love in SL”. Underneath is another line “Wish you were here ...” which has been covered with x’s. Are these kisses or is the sender of the postcard looking for love in SL separate from an RL relationship?

Even the fact of including non-art objects in a gallery space raises questions. What is art, what makes something art? Who decides what is or is not art?
Aruba is looking forward to displaying more works by other artists, so we can look forward to continuing this dialogue on the nature of art and the experience of the individual (in rl and sl) in the future.

This art gallery is on a sky platform over a sim where Aruba has created a peaceful little village. There are colourful buildings set in a tropical environment. They include a shop with low prim furniture, another art gallery, a bath and a club. It is a tranquil place, made for relaxing with friends. Perhaps it would be a good place to discuss the ideas and questions that may have come up while visiting the gallery in the sky.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Visiting Christmas Gone Wrong!

There are lots of lovely Christmas sites around Second Life at this time of year, and I’ve been having fun exploring some of them! I came across one that was a little bit different yesterday though, it wasn’t all it seemed at first, and for those of you who like a little twist of macabre, ‘Christmas Gone Wrong’ should be right up your street! As I teleported in to this very pretty snowy sim a creepy looking skeleton in a top hat and holding a candle greeted me! There were bits of shattered snowmen laying around and some hidden surprises. I hitched a ride on a donkey as he pulled a cart along a path at the edge of the frozen pond. Peering inside a barn as the donkey trotted along, it was evident that Santa may have turned into a bit of a killer as there was blood on the ground and Rudolph the red nosed reindeer didn’t look too healthy!

I left the donkey and went inside one of the cosy little houses, nothing seemed amiss; it was lovely, a blazing log fire with Christmas stockings hanging over the fireplace, a table set for tea for two and some comfy sofas inviting you to snuggle down and relax. Be warned though, don’t go upstairs! It’s not quite as nice up there!!

There’s a large Victorian house as well and I ventured inside, it was decidedly creepy as some books suddenly shot up into the air narrowly missing my head. I scrambled back outside before the poltergeists got me!

As I looked around I spotted Chely Lock, the sim owner, she was talking to another visitor Davey Crannock. I said hello and Chely told us how she loved Halloween and had to throw a little bit of that into Christmas in the sim. Davey was wearing a snowman avatar and looked great, he kindly gave me one to wear too! Chely told me that Maximillion Kleene was appearing in the sim at 7pm, which was a little bit too late for my UK time zone, but I’m sure it was a great show.

I really enjoyed looking around Christmas Gone Wrong and I also loved meeting Chely who has done a brilliant job there. If you want Christmas with an edge of something sinister you can’t go far wrong with Chely’s wonderful sim!!

Janey Bracken