Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Retreating and Retracing

Bertie is due to be taken out of his pot and put into a planter tonight. I hope he likes his new home. He is going to have a jam jar of stout by his side (excellent suggestion, btw Jo).

I had to take our youngest cat, Jack, to the vet this morning. It took a good ten minutes and skulduggery with food to get him into the box. When we got home, I opened the door, and that was it--he was gone. He probably won't trust me ever again.

All this preparation is so, when we’re away next week, there’s nothing to worry about. On Friday, Allegra, ngaio, Tez (a friend of Allegra’s) and I are journeying up to the wilds of Scotland for a week of meditation, writing and rambling over the hills and moors. I’m trying to leave my expectations at home so I can just go with whatever is flowing. It’s about as contrary to my nature as a fish running, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s going to be interesting, as Allegra has banned me from taking my laptop. I tried explaining to her that my laptop is my main means of creative expression, and it was kind of like asking a guy with no legs to leave his prosthetics at home. Deaf ears.

The break from my normal creative process has the potential to do wonders. I just have to let it. Despite anxiety, I’m looking forwards to the break. Stress seems to be piling up and it’ll be good to be in a place where I can’t do anything about it, so I don’t have to worry about it. And a place where I can just write and do whatever. I can start something new and throw it around with everyone else, and watch it take a direction I never thought of.

I’m worried about the midges, though. I used to holiday in the Outer Hebrides when I was a kit and midges are a trauma. They love my blood. They love my sweat. They love climbing in my ears and under my eyelids and in my long hair. The only people who understand my pain are my aunt and my brother. I’m bringing two different kinds of repellent. I still feel under-prepared.

In other news, I’ve finished my first, ‘hack’. I’ve taken an old shirt I didn’t wear any more, and turned it into a new waistcoat. I’d be lying if I said it looked great, but it does okay and I’m happily wearing it today. I plan to make another waistcoat out of an old black shirt I found at the bottom of the wardrobe. Being able to create something tangible like that has an addictive quality. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d have found my new vocation.

Sewing all done, I’ve been going back to Bambi’s stories. As I’m sure you can imagine, some need more work than others. Number two in the series was a pain, number three needed some surgery, but number four needed very little work. I wrote it over Christmas 2008 and its set at that time of year. The ending is a bit sappy, but I let that stand. Five and six are the last two, but they’re also probably going to need the most work. I just sat down and wrote those, no planning or forethought. Now I’m going back and reshaping them all to be part of the same narrative, I’m not only going to have to clean them up but also remould them to fit in. Once all the stories have been put into a second draft, I can go back and refine them. The first draft is just what happens to come out my fingers when I'm at the keyboard.. The second draft is what I meant to write. Third and forth are refining. Sometimes there’s a fifth draft. Normally I’m done in four, though. It’d be nice to get the last two into draft-ii before the trip, but that’s not going to happen. Maybe I’ll print them out and bring them with me. At least I have the option then, even if I don’t take it up.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Arctic Blasts

What I meant to talk about on Saturday was tea.

My coffee consumption has dwindled to a few lonely, slightly soggy grounds (I think I last had a cup on Thursday), and my tea ball is working over-time.  ngaio was kind enough to buy me a ‘sampler’ of lose-leaf teas which Evis and I have been testing over the past few weeks.  I have a table on my computer at work, wherein I have commented on the teas, and given them marks out of ten.  The marks range from eight to two (it tasted like broad beans...)  When it’s complete, I shall of course be posting it up here.

The fantastic news is that I’ve found a tea which scores an amazing, big, fat ten out of ten.  It’s called Arctic Fire, and I picked it up in London.  It’s almost sweet and floral, like Turkish Delight, but then it weighs in with a heavy kick of mint.

There’s only two problems:
I need an air-tight jar to keep it in, as it’s very quickly losing it’s bite;
I can’t find anywhere in the UK to buy it on-line!  The shop sealed the packets with stickers giving their street address and telephone number, so when I come back from Scotland I’m going to give them a call and ask if they can post me some.

I’ve got another two teas from the London shop as well:  One is a violet tea which Allegra brought and doesn’t really like; and the other is one called Chinese Hookah.  I’ve not tried the Hookah yet--I’m using up the Arctic Fire before it becomes tasteless, and have kept the Hookah sealed against degeneration.  The violet tea tastes like Palmer Violets, which can’t be a bad thing.  It’s a sweet tea that’s like eating a Mars Bar--a bit fun and indulgent.

Peppermint tea is quickly replacing coffee as my writing drink.  This is very significant.  It’s like changing operating systems.  I replaced smoking with coffee, and now I’m replacing coffee with peppermint tea.  I love mint teas.  I’ve even brought my own mint plant--called Bertie--so I can make fresh mint tea.  Only problem is that the slugs seem to quite like mint, too.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

A Week in FoxieLand

It’s been a kind of crappy week.  Work’s been a steady rolling ball of unpleasantness, mainly due to the atmosphere.  The company are treating us like crap, people are feeling like crap and it’s not taking much for people to get bruised. 

The landlord came over on Thursday to deliver a new cooker for us.  That meant the house needed cleaning.  (I don’t live in a sty, but I’ve got more interesting things to be doing than vacuuming every few days and Turtle Waxing my books.) 

The week before, I put down the work I’ve been doing on Bambi to turn an old shirt into a new waistcoat.  I’ve really taken to sewing.  It has a tangible feel of achievement, and I can watch Quantum Leap while I do it.  I just brought Season 2 on DVD and, well, childhood feelings are the sweetest.  The house cleaning meant that I worked, came home, cleaned, went to bed...

On top of that, I’m seriously considering leaving Critters.  Critters is amazing.  It’s a group of writers who exchange critiques on each other’s stories.  Each week, about two dozen short stories are mailed out to members and put on the website.  Everyone reads a manuscript or two, or ten, and submit their 300 word plus critique, which then gets sent to the writer.  You can expect about a dozen critiques on a story.  Writing the crits has helped me as much as getting them back on the two stories I’ve had critted. 

The trouble is, you have to submit three critiques every four weeks.  I’m having trouble doing that.  It’s so damned simple, but this is the sort of thing I’ve always struggled with.  You know, commitment and consistency.  I pick things up, chase them around the living room for a bit, and then sort of get bored and wander off.  I’m changing my nature, but there’s only so hard you can fight against it.

In other news, I’m looking forwards to having a new puppy to play with.  According to the BBC, the British Library are putting 2 million pages from 19th century newspapers online for the public to view.  It costs, but not much and I’m happy to pay.  The opportunity to paw through the minutiae of life over a century ago is making my jaws slather. 

I do apologise for the boring, negative post.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I’m trying to keep playing with this toy even after the shine has stopped sparkling.  I just keep reminding myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect.  That’s one of the things which enables me to drop things:  I leave them for a bit, and then the momentum goes and the longer I leave it, the more I’m convinced it’s got to be perfect, so the longer I leave it...  You don’t have to make it up the mountain in one step, Foxie.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The London Adventure

London was a different world to me.  There was such a huge variety of people all doing their own thing.  Almost half of them were plugged into their phones, Nintendo DS, mp3 player...  The other half stared blankly into space, into books or at the person with them.  Everyone was going somewhere, and only worried about arriving. 

The thing which struck me most were the smells of London.  I’d start off at one end of a street with beer and cigarette smoke, and pass through grilled meat, perfume, cars, buses, spices and a whole host of other things I couldn’t identify.  And what is it that the Tube trains smell of?  There’s some grease around the edges of it, maybe some copper, something with hints of rubber and something sharp...  The Tube smells like the Tube. 

I spent my time on the trains and the streets like a kitten in a catnip patch.  I guess the locals can be as angry at me as I get with the tourists who amble down the Welsh roads at 20 m.p.h. while they stare stupidly at the mountains.

Castlevania and Crossbones

Out in Finchley, it smelt of rain and hedgerows.  We had a twenty minute walk to the arcade through tree-lined avenues and the occasional passing car, only to find that the machine was long-gone.  It was a shame, but Allegra took it very well.  We played on the Silent Hill shooter instead, pumping pound coins into the machine as Pyramid Head killed us.

That left the evening free to visit Crossbones.  It was a haunting experience.  The gates were tightly shut but covered in flowers, epitaphs, ribbons, candles and photographs that other people had left for the dead.  Ordinarily, I don’t think the dead can hear.  When they’re close, though, my conviction slips away.  Allegra and I borrowed a pair of ngaio’s nail scissors, (eventually) drew some blood with them and left it at the gates.  I don’t have an explanation for why I did that.

The Espresso Book Machine

Before we left, the EBM had me excited.  With the machine, a publisher no longer has to commit to huge print runs.  You can go into the shop, pick the book you want, have it printed and then leave with it.  I had the idea of shelves being stacked, not with books, but with flashcards showing the front and back covers, the bookshop resembling a Blockbuster more than a library.

My whole experience was terribly British.  I picked out the book I wanted before leaving, and had a map to the store.  I went in, Allegra found the machine and I waited patiently for someone to serve me.  Eventually, I hunted someone down who told me that the someone I needed was on their break, but she’d find him for me.  Ten minutes later, he came back from his break, checked the EBM library and told my assistant--who then told me--that they couldn’t print the book I wanted and did I want to order it instead.  Rather defeated the point, I thought.  I could do that at home.

And that’s what I left thinking.  I go to a bookshop to smell the books, hold them, flick through the pages and be snagged by the covers.  If I want a specific book... I go to Amazon, or eBay, or Play, or Google Shopping, or anywhere else on-line.  The only advantage the EBM seems to have over other print-on-demand is that you have to go to the store to pick up your book.  That's a real... um... pain in the arse?  I think the EBM is going to be an odd side-track on the evolution of publishing rather than the linotype I thought it was going to be.

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum was great.  I secretly liked Museums when I was a kid.  Every display I walk past, I read and am fascinated by.  I slowly made my way through the human body exhibit, then the dinosaurs, then the natural world and then the restless Earth.  The human body exhibit hadn’t changed since I saw it in around 1992, when I thought Terminator 2 was the best thing in the world, ever.  I walked over the dinosaur skeletons and watched the arms of a iguanodon shake like it was still alive.  The natural world told me a bunch of stuff about global warming I knew already, and the restless Earth showed me how rocks are made and how the planet’s core is mainly iron. 

When we look out to the horizon, the Earth looks flat.  Time’s like that, I think.  Things seem static and set, but only because we’re too small to see the curvature of time’s arc.   Like Eratosthenes, we can prove time’s curve but we can’t observe it.  Maybe one day, we will be able to. 

The Ballet

The ballet was interesting.  The dancers twisted and contorted like creatures from Silent Hill.  I didn’t know humans could move like that without being possessed by forces of evil.  The dance itself explored the evolution of imagination, mathematics, relationships and the space they exist in as they touched each other.  Interesting, but I think I still prefer Giselle.

We were pushed for time, but needed to eat before the performance.  We found an Indian buffet, and I filled up a plate with food, ate it, polished of half of ngaio’s and left within ten minutes.  Yes, I am proud of myself.

Docklands and Doughnuts

On Sunday morning we sat on the Docklands Light Railway from Bank station to the train’s terminus, and then rode it back again.  I watched the houses, apartments, warehouses, gardens, office blocks and rivers go by my window.  I gawked at the Isle of Dogs as it jutted out of London like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.  This random mash of new developments, history and organic human cultural growth is what London has always been for me.  The HSBC building, stations with names like Heron’s Quay and Mudchute, an old abandoned boat lying in the low tide and covered in plants, rows of Victorian terraced houses with their satellite dishes and washing in the gardens, gaudy new apartment blocks full of city boy wankers and DKNYs...  The DLR ride was definitely a high-light.

Waiting in London Victoria for the train back, we visited the Krispy Kreme stall and picked up doughnuts for the office.  All in, I think we ended up buying five dozen, not counting the few single ones we brought.  The people who served us--Martin and Leena--were wonderful and gave us free tea and coffee.

And the rest...

The falafel place was indeed fantastic and well-worth seeking out.  Opposite it, ngaio found a shop selling specialist loose-leaf teas and coffee.  Yes, it was Heaven and of course I spent money I shouldn't.  The Bridge Cafe lost out to time, unfortunately.

Now I’m utterly skint, but very glad I went.

European Election Results

Google has judged me...

After I'd finished a draft of a post about my adventures in London, I checked my email and found that 'URGENT ACTION [was] REQUIRED' on my Blogger account.  I read the email, and found that my account had been suspended, as a suspected, 'spam blog'.  What's a spam blog?  According to Blogger's FAQ:

Blogs engaged in this behavior are called spam blogs, and can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site.

Irrelevant, repetitive or nonsensical text? 

*sad face with puppy dog eyes*

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A Trip to the Bright Lights of Bartertown

Allegra, ngaio and myself are heading off to London on Friday.  The trip started as Allegra wanted to go and see Wayne McGregor’s ballet, Random Dance.  The ballet is on Saturday, but we decided to make a weekend of it.  Last year, I spent my birthday with my parents while Allegra and ngaio spent the weekend in London.  I joined them on the Monday, to go to Forbidden Planet, the Doctor Who exhibition and the First Emperor exhibition at the British Museum.  Such a good time was had by all that we decided to do it again.

Current items on the itinerary include:
  • Blackwells Bookshop on Charing Cross Road to see the Espresso Book Machine;
  • Canary Wharf to look at the sky scrapers;
  • Cross Bones Graveyard, responsible for the Southwark Mysteries;
  • the Hollywood Bowl in Finchley to play the new Castlevania arcade game;
  • the Bridge CafĂ©, where losing teams from The Apprentice go to psyche up before the chicken pecking in the boardroom;
  • the falafel place Allegra and ngaio went to last time before I joined them in the capital;
  • Krispy Kreme donuts, where we are going to pick up Kremey goodness for our department at work;
  • the Natural History Museum;
  • and of course the ballet on Saturday night.

The hostel we’re staying in is, I’m told, a rung below the one at Whitby.  ngaio refused to use the shower last time she was there for fear of being consumed by the mould and other organisms which had annexed it.

It’s a marvel of modern society that I can describe that list as ‘geeky’, and not ‘just plain sad’.  Eschewing the normal gravity wells of London which draw in most tourists, we’re indulging ourselves.  Sad or geeky, we’re doing what we want and people can call it what they like.   I’m really looking forwards to it.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A Brief Interlude Sponsored by A Coalition of My Principles

There’s a tactic called ‘confusion marketing’. The idea is that you bombard the consumer with so much information and so much choice, that they get confused and either decide to stick with what they’ve already got or make a choice which leaves them worse off than before.

Democracy is kind of like that. There are so many layers of government, so many elected representatives and unelected officials, so many parties, so many policies, so many fliers, so much bullshit. It’s no wonder most people don’t care enough to take an interest, and those that do have specific and narrow agendas.

British Parliamentary democracy goes all the way back to William the Conquer trying to consolidate his new kingdom after 1066. It wasn’t until 1969 that every adult over 18 got the right to vote. Just over 900 years. All that fighting, all that blood, all those wars, all that pain. We've grown up assuming the right to vote as one of our most basic rights, and so all that blood and tears seems like something of a foreign country to us.

I think we should listen to our ancestors and those 900 years of fighting. I think 900 years outweighs our few decades of saturation and disillusion with the modern political process and the people involved in it. No matter how ineffectual it is, 30 generations clearly thought it was better than the alternative. The ideal is bigger and far more important than the individual spinning it to their own ends on the TV.

And you’re right: Your vote isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference. One voice among the millions (or, these days, hundreds of thousands), all voting in a ‘first past the post’ system... each individual voice gets lost. Two points, though:
  1. It’s unfortunately true that, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. One of those narrow agenda parties will win because only those who have narrow agendas will vote. Then we’ll be building a fence around the UK shoreline and executing dissidents and wondering where it all went wrong.
  2. Secondly, in order to vote knowledgably you have to know your own views. You have to know where society is at the moment, and where you want it to go. When you know those things, how you live is going to change. Not much. You might just shop in different places and buy different brands. Or start growing your own vegetables. Or realise that money isn’t as important as you think it is, quit your job and live in a tent in a field. And, the changes you make in your life will make small changes in the world around you. By interacting with the macrocosm of greater society, you change the microcosm of your personal world.

So, go out and vote on 4th June. Or whenever else you have the chance. And if there’s no one you want to vote for, do something about it. Form your own party, drop out from society, start a revolution, buy a boat and live out in international waters. Not bothering to do anything is the worst of all options, because apathy leads to consent and to ignorance.

The European Parliament is made up of so many different parties from so many different countries, they’ve organised themselves into voting blocs. The blocs work together to push through or defeat legislation. Find a bloc who’s principles you agree with, and find a party in that bloc who’s policies you agree with.

The BBC has a guide to the voting blocs;
this blog has a fantastic entry on where the UK parties fit into them;
and you can find out the results of the last European election from the BBC here.

C’mon. A couple hours of your time verses 900 years?