Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Man in the Mirror

The hair project has been, I think, a success. I’ve had my hair in the same style for many years now. It’s been down to the small of my back with a brush pulled through it to keep it neat. I’d normally tie it back, because it being in my face irritated me. I started growing my hair in earnest when I was 14, and have only really cut it one time since, in 2003. Ever since I was in double digits, I wanted long hair. I’ve had it for a long time now. I wanted a change.

It may seem like only a small change; Allegra cut the hair forwards of my ears to chin length. The effect is that I now have wide ‘bangs’, or ‘ears’ at the front while the back is still almost waist-length.

I wear it down, and am becoming accustomed to the feel of my ears on my cheeks and the sight of them in the edges of my vision.

The first time I looked in the mirror after they were cut was an horrific moment. My first thought was that I looked like Prince Valium. My second was that I looked like I was sixteen again. Sixteen was not a happy time for me, and that was due in a large part to my chin-length hair. Seeing that face staring back in the mirror was... a challenge.

The unwritten rule is that if people don’t comment on your new hairstyle, they hate it. You can imagine, then, my fears and thoughts about debuting my new locks. Especially at the steam barbecue. And then bringing it into work on Monday. Every silence was a condemnation.

To my surprise, there were more compliments than silence. People who don’t normally notice told me it looked good and brought out the shape of my face.

It hasn’t laid that sixteen-year-old ghost to rest, but I’m seeing it less and less in the mirror.

It sounds vein, I’m sure, but my long hair has long been a defining trait of mine. When I was fourteen, I decided that society was going to hate me no matter what I did, so I would do what I wanted. And that was to have long hair. I've stuck with it, through thick and thin, fashion, impulse and accidents. It’s the one thing I’ve had that no one could take away from me or take control of. We all have our battlefields, I suppose.

So, I have a slightly different hairstyle. And I’m growing quite fond of it.

Monday, 27 July 2009

A £10 Bid for Freedom

Well, the start of next month--this Saturday--marks the start of what is being colloquially called ‘Fuck Food Month’.

This idea was born out of a rant I had one day in Scotland.  Flush with the cleansing feeling brought about by the lack of TV and internet, the fact I hadn’t even wound my watch since we’d arrived, deciding what to do that day when we woke up and congregated in the living room, I started looking around at the rest of my life.  What did I find?  Food.

You see, from before we’re born with indoctrinated with the idea that food matters.  What we eat, what we don’t eat, how much we eat, where we buy things from, how the things we buy are produced, how they’re transported... the list goes on.  Just a quick look around shows you how obsessed our society is with food.  Count how many food shops there are in your town--supermarkets, restaurants, fast food places, bakers, butchers...  How many adverts on the TV are about food?  How many shows are there about food?  Magazines?  Billboards?  People are even more obsessed over food than they are over sex, and that’s saying something.

Food aid charities keep running adverts saying, ‘£10 will feed a family for a month...’, or whatever.  Well, clearly then food is a choice, not a necessity.  When we’re eating, we’re sustaining our bodies and our brains.  Strip everything away, and that’s what you’re left with.  Anything above and beyond that is an indulgence in the experience of food.  In the taste, the texture, the preparation, the art and sensation of it.  When you look at the food you eat every day, and the way you eat it, it seems as if we’re being stiffed a bit.  The supermarkets have convinced us that choice of food is a human necessity, and have consistently lowered the standards of the foods offered, masked by an increase in choice.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to play any more.  For all of August, I’m going to be sustaining my body and my brain, not worrying about food and getting on with far more important things life has to offer.  I’m going to be breaking my psychological addiction to food.  I must have made some sense, because Allegra has decided to join me in the experiment.  Using the same tables and charts the food charities use, she has worked out our diet for the coming month.  Per day:
200 grams of rice;
250 grams of chickpeas;
150 grams of nuts;
to be supplemented with fresh fruit as and when we can.

I have high hopes, to be honest.  By the end of the month, I hope to have cleared away another chunk of the blinding smog society forces into our psyches without us even realising it.

I’ve already given up alcohol and meat.  That’s pretty mundane and, on the surface, makes me look a bit boring (or religious...).  I’m hoping I can eliminate more and more of this institutional smog my brain is so choked with.  I’m also hoping that if I eliminate enough, I will pass through ‘boring’ and into the eccentric side of ‘interesting’.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Surgery and Hacking

Just so you know, I’ve been working on Bambi VI recently. By working, I really mean ‘re-working’. I may even mean ‘re-writing’. How many words from the original work need to be left for it to be counted as the same piece? I’m taking out one half of the main story, putting in another one, putting in four extra characters who weren’t there before, changing the relationships between all the main characters... oh, yes, and tearing the whole world apart. Which includes the slaughter of millions of avatars--people who live solely in the digital world. They have souls, so they’re people. But, more significant than that, Bambi goes from tricking her mother into killing herself to convincing her to choose life and sacrifice her pedigree. That’s kind of like getting Jerry to save Tom’s soul.

Tomorrow, Allegra, ngaio and I are off to Chester for a barbeque with the 1816 Society, being the S.T.E.A.M.C.R.E.W. It’s a chance for us Steampunks in the North West to get dressed up, talk about reshaping society and who would win in a fist fight between Darwin and H.G. Wells, and eat corn cobs and sweet potatoes. And, of course, have the odd beverage and cup of tea. I made a Battenberg for the occasion. I hope it goes down well.

Maybe I can find some more converts for my ‘Steampunk Quantum Leap’ pet project. It has to be done, and it will be awesome. By ‘pet project’ I mean, of course, idea I like to get heated and rant incoherently about. Alfonse--Al--will be ‘magic lantern’ 2D projection onto flat surfaces and will chomp on a pipe, and he will communicate with the project’s difference engine ‘Bierce’ through his walnut hand communicator which gives off the occasional hiss of steam. Alfonse: “Samuel, Bierce says that there’s a 96.4% chance that you’re here to ensure Miss Feathering-Smithe attends the passing out ball on Tuesday... as the timeline currently rests, she sprains her ankle and misses the ball, and never meets Jonathan, her husband and inventor of the clockwork match-striker--which was inspired by his wife!”...and, Samuel: “I’ve leapt into the body of Charles Darwin... Egads!”

Thursday, 23 July 2009

What Did I Do Before TV and the Internet?

Been a while, I know. Stevie (the car), Scotland, my ISP and work have knocked the wind out of me of late. Work has reached the point where there is serious talk in the Fox/Hawksmoor household of quitting and moving 100 miles down the road to Chester.

While in Scotland, I read through El Sombra, the second in Abaddon Books’ Pax Brittania world. I’ve passed their first one, Unnatural History around a few people. I wrote an enthusiastic review of it for Steampunk Magazine #6. T’other Paul (we already had one Paul when he started) had it next and loved it like I did. ngaio and Allegra were less than impressed--Allegra didn’t even finish it, and ngaio only finished it so she could understand what T’other Paul and I were talking about.

El Sombra was better, in my opinion. In a small Mexican town, a masked vigilante fights to free his people from the Nazi’s. Loud, bright, explosive, no-holds-barred pulp action Saturday morning pictures extravaganza. Bereft of characters or moral ambiguities. Great fun.

Since coming back to Wales, I’ve also read Rob Grant’s Backwards. I’d read all the other Red Dwarf books years ago, but somehow never managed to get through to this one. Far better than Doug Naylor’s offering, The Last Human. Backwards had a stronger plot, better writing and one bit where I laughed out loud. I haven’t done that when reading a book since... blimey, I can’t recall a single time.

And I simply can’t forget to mention Ray Bardbury’s The Illustrated Man. Fahrenheit 451 is a book which has endured with me and I frequently say is my favourite. The Illustrated Man has some pretty good stories, and some amazing ones. The Highway, The Long Rain and Kaleidoscope are worth a mention. I find it hard to explain what I find so hypnotic about Bradbury’s writing. He’s like a magician: He’s standing there, nothing up his sleeves and you watch him wandering around on stage, perfectly ordinarily. And then he stops, and you realize he’s built this amazing, beautiful home to ideas which whisper gently to you when your brain is just running idle. If I knew how he did it, I’d be copying it. Without shame.

Scotland was an amazing experience. The most enduring part of has been the silence. We had no computers, no television and only watched one video the entire week. We had music playing just one evening, and that was it. There were no neighbours, no road and cars, no people walking around outside. Just the sea and the birds and the wind. Since coming back, Allegra and I only have the television if there’s a specific programme we want to watch. At the moment, it gets turned on at 8:00pm on Sunday for Top Gear, and back off again at 9:00pm. The elimination of just that background noise from out daily lives has made the whole world seem different.

I get +1 Geek Points for following @isaacasimov, and another +1 for buying a mobile so I can update my Twitter when I’m away from the ‘net. The mobile is a Motorola W377, a slim flip phone. I have vague ideas of turning it into something resembling a cigarette case.

The copies of Steampunk Magazine #6 are back from the layout guy. There’s a lot of proof-reading in my future. I may have only had a minor part in putting it together, but it’s going to be amazing to see it all there, together, just like a real magazine! And, of course, Of Mice and Journeymen is appearing in there. I’m very excited about that. My first paying story, ever!

Three Meme T-Shirt

It doesn't cure cancer, or AIDS, have magic powers, act as a chick magnet or any of those other fancy things the real McCoy does.

It was enough to make me smile, though

Props, of course, to the people behind the Keyboard Cat shirt. Win, guys.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Fly Me To The...

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing.

It was real, and it was worth it.

We should go back.  Test out the new tech before we take it to Mars.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

From the wilds of Scotland, back to reality

My journey home, let me tell you about it...

On the Thursday night before, my companions stayed up late and made a determined effort to finish the alcohol while I got an early night.  Fair play to them--if I wasn’t the designated driver, I would have stayed up with them even though I don’t drink.  Drain the cup to the dregs and pay the piper in the morning!

I did what last minute packing and tidying I could while they paid their dues, and got them out of bed as late as was reasonable.  Between me, the one human being and them, the three kind of human zombies, we got most of the odds and ends packed and ready to be loaded into Stevie, our car.  I went out to bring him to the door, to make the loading as painless as possible.

This is where the story starts.

Stevie wouldn’t start.  No matter how many times I tried, no matter how many prayers I sent, all I got was a clicking from.... some part of the engine.  Panicked phone calls to parents later, we decided it was probably a flat battery.  We tried a bump start.  We tried many push starts.  Have you ever pushed a car along an old, gravel country road with grass growing down the middle and rabbit holes in the way?  If you haven’t, two things:  First, it’s hard and leaves you with painful shoulders; second, you can’t get enough speed for a push start.

We called the caretaker of the cottage and told him we’d be late leaving.  He said that was fine, and he’d bring jump leads.  He was good to his word and we were very grateful.  Our bonnets’ opened, he secured the leads to his battery and, after a moment of deliberation, to Stevie’s.  Sparks few and smoke poured off the terminals.  “Try your engine!” he urged.  “Quick!”  I leapt into the driver’s seat and, my eyes on the smoke pluming out of my battery, turned the key.  “Nothing!” I yelled.  He pulled the leads off, and frowned at me.  After a few moments’ frowning, he reconnected the leads, this time to the opposite terminals.  “Give that a try,” he said.  I did, and there was the glorious sound of the starter motor firing, and the pistons moving.

Despite being behind schedule, we decided to take the more scenic route and drive around Loch Lomond.  There were still dregs to be had.  Allegra was directing me and told me to turn right at the next T-junction.  I pulled up, indicated, braked, clutch, put the handbrake on and said, “Oh.”  “Huh?” Allegra asked, and then looked up.  “Oh,” she said.  The Rest and Be Thankful Pass, through which we were looking forwards to driving, was closed.  I pulled into a lay-by and asked the lone high-vis-jacketed man on guard if there was a way around, and what had happened.  F15 Tornado crashed into the hillside of the pass.  We took the diversion, contemplating the irony and the extra hour of driving.

There a couple of hours of beautiful scenery, fiddly driving and rain before the story picks up again on the M8 just outside Glasgow--which is a shithole.  If you live in Glasgow, I apologise--no one should have to live like that.  There was a hefty tailback, and we were crawling along, my left calf getting increasingly painful (you drivers will know why).  Then Stevie stalled.  And wouldn’t turn over.  I turned the key and got... nothing.  Allegra and I swapped seats as I pushed Stevie onto the hard shoulder.  I wandered a little way off, and found out what those orange SOS phones on the side of the road do.  They put you through to a disinterested sounding man with a London accent who gives you three options:  Number one, join the AA; number two, join the RAC; number three, have the police come out and call a local garage who will then give you a stonking bill.  We deliberated, and eventually went for number two.  Now, my friends, that’s good marketing.  “Ah!  I see you’ve got a gaping hole in your femoral artery!  Well, you can join BUPA, join PPP, or the police can drop you off at a GP surgery.  Or you could just keep on bleeding.  Talk it over, you know, I’m in no hurry...”

A hundred-and-twenty quid and half-an-hour later, the RAC van turned up, jumped the battery (again) and lead us off the motorway and outside a carpet warehouse.  He did things with leads and cables and meters, and then told me to try the engine.  I did, and Stevie breathed again.  The RAC man told me it was a problem with the alternator, he had fixed it, and as soon as he had deposited his paperwork with us like a cat using a litter tray, we were free to go again.

About an hour later, we stopped to get petrol.  It was all going well until I urged Stevie to walk on.  You can guess what happened.  We pushed him away from the pumps and put in another call to the RAC.  Allegra had been the cheerfully optimistic wind in our sails all day.  At every pothole, she had a smile and a happy whimsy which made everything seem, you know, okay.  While I was on the phone to the RAC (it took a while... I waited five minutes to get through, had half a conversation, and then my credit ran out...) something happened to her.  The one hour’s sleep she managed to steal from the night before, the burning pain in her arms and shoulders from the red wine, the money we’d had to spend on a car we’re planning to replace in the next couple of months, the rain...  It all condensed into a ball of, ‘fuck you, world! Fuck You!’.  We pushed Stevie up the forecourt, and down, up, and down...  I think the universe decided to reward us for our--Allegra’s--sheer bloody mindedness.  Two-and-a-half hours of motorway later, the RAC man called to say he was on the way.  We told him he wasn’t needed.

After nine hours, we left Scotland.  The entire journey back to North West Wales was supposed to take nine hours, tops.  As ngaio said, sometimes it just takes nine hours to get out of Scotland.

We stopped... at some point so I could have a break from driving.  The motor ran while we swapped seats.  I napped in the back for an hour-and-some before taking the wheel again.  Tez was deposited without further incident, some time around midnight.  His mother gave us tea and his father jumped Stevie back into life, and we were on our way again.  Fifteen hours or so after we’d set off, we pulled into Bangor.  We parked Stevie at a local garage (because there was no way we could get him there if we stopped again), and slept on ngaio’s sofa bed for the night.

I explained the problem to a young lad at the garage, he put a couple of wires on the battery and said, “yep, you were right, dead as Jacko.  A new one is... fifty quid.”  He looked up at me, awaiting my decision.  I was caught:  Did I pay for a new battery, or did I lie on my living room floor as the blood drained out my artery?  Having taken all my tools out the boot to make way for holiday packing, I asked him to install it for me and spent a quarter-of-an-hour looking for my wallet.  I had to drag ngaio back to the garage to pay in my steed if it had been sacrificed the previous day at some point.

If I was writing this on Saturday afternoon, as I was planning to, this would be the end of the story.  I’m not writing this on Saturday afternoon because our ISP had cut us off for not paying the bill, and after Stevie’s bills we couldn’t afford to make it up to them.  Can’t afford to.

The story picks up on Monday morning, on the way to work.  There we are, on the A5, chatting about what Stevie had taught us during the trip on Friday.  There’s a clunk.  I put my foot down to accelerate, and get nothing.  So I change down, and try again.  Nothing.  As I’m pondering this, Allegra’s eyes have gone wide.  “Dylan, there’s smoke coming out the bonnet--pull over!”  She was right.  White smoke was coming out the bonnet like bad eighties special effects, and was being blown into the cabin through the air vents.  Something was dripping through the passenger’s footwell onto Allegra’s feet.  I pulled over, tried to put the hazard lights on and failed.  Opening the bonnet, I found that the battery had welded itself to it.  We called the RAC as traffic pulled around us.  The A5 is a single carriage way, tightly weaving through the Welsh landscape, and we were blocking it.  It wasn’t long before we had a police car flashing blues and twos either side of us, directing traffic.  The RAC man turned up, and gave us a tow back to the garage.

When we got there, I popped the bonnet and he took the battery out.  Acid dribbled out of it in a steady stream.  “Your battery’s fucked... your electrics probably fucked, too.”  The manager from the garage came out, and agreed with him.  “There’s no restraining bolt holding the battery down,” the manager said.  “It just bounced up and hit the bonnet.  You’re lucky it didn’t explode.  The lad who fitted it isn’t in today, but I’m going to have A Word with him...”

I’ve had a car for the last ten years.  Public transport is something of a foreign world to me.  When I was a kid, I took the bus all the time.  A lot has changed in the last ten years, including where I live.  ngaio is a regular busser, and Allegra is a smart cookie, so they arranged transport to and from work while I was hiding in the internets. 

The garage are replacing the battery and fixing the wiring for me at no charge.  It’s amazing.  They’re wonderful.  It’ll be ready to pick up Wednesday night, but we’ve already got weekly bus tickets so we’re going to bus it to work and back all week.  Between the alternator being fixed (which had been on the fritz for a while), the battery being replaced (which randomly discharged overnight in Scotland and was probably on the fritz) and the wiring being replaced (which had been on the fritz for a while), I’m ending up with a better car then when I started.

Almost.  The brakes are grinding, which I’m told is a bad thing.

So, in conclusion... does anyone know a good--and by good I mean fuel efficient and reliable--and by reliable I mean German--erm--3 door, 1.4 ltr car I can get second hand for between £1,500 and £2,000?