The week that was: City of Light

16 02 2010

It’s that time of the week again. Been an eventful one this week.

World:

To be honest I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on in the world as the imminent threat of snow focussed all my attention on just what the hell I was going to do if the Eurostar shut down. I vaguely got something about some designer allegedly offing himself (very sad when anyone does it, regardless of fame) and some weird Scottish fella, increasingly few people pay attention to, employing yet another cynical media trick. Oh and Wales won. Just.

Work:

Buzz was the name of the game last week as Google demonstrated its ability to casually ignore privacy to an even greater level than most social networks. For those who missed it Google launched Buzz, a twitter/facebook hybrid that sits in your Gmail interface and was – until today – defaulted to on and accidentally made all your highest frequency contacts visible to the world. I was unsurprised that caught people’s attention but shocked and disappointed that the very dodgy terms and conditions around the Buzz i-phone app didn’t attract more attention. Perhaps it was corrected quickly but certainly initially in order to use the app you had to agree to let it use your location. This may have been only for targeted advertising but if the system is used in the way Twitter is then it could have unforeseen consequences.

Writing:

Word count tailed off a bit last week. This was disappointing but I managed an end of week rally and know where I am going this week – fingers crossed. I am still working to finish off the last draft of TSG.

Reading:

Mainly reading Aliette de Bodard’s debut novel Servant of the Underworld; an Aztec murder mystery with full blown magic and mayhem; Aliette’s great story telling and artfully woven research – what’s not to love?

Fitness:

Pretty good week here. Managed to up my cardio and finally introduce some resistance work, mainly just using my own weight for now. This is of little interest really other than to draw attention to how ridiculous I look on a cross trainer and how it was an entirely different short tubby Welshman that fell off. Honest.

Travel:

Constant readers and people who know me in meatspace will know I was planning Something for last weekend. The something was a return to Paris that G was unaware of and the first time we had been back since the infamous Paris Incident that occurred shortly after this blog was started. It was a surprise for G, meant as a distraction from a rough Christmas and a means of sorting something else out that will probably spill out in the next couple of days. But not yet.

The trip was a great success: we managed to see Notre Dame, hang out in the very cool Shakespeare & Company bookshop, wander round parts of the Louvre we missed last time, see the Chinese New Year parade and ate some very good food. Best of all: I escaped pigeon attack.

So it was a pretty full on week. How was yours?





Nemesis

12 02 2010

For those following my twitter stream, and wondering what the hell I’ve been cryptically hinting at for the last week, the picture below is a clue. This weekend I face my nemesis one more time.*

A pigeon shows off his tally.

(Image via www.digitalfog.com)

* PS: Got you G. :)





Chartwell

4 10 2009

My parents have been down (or I guess up and slightly to the right like) visiting.

The last couple of times they visited my mum has wanted to go to Chartwell and this time we finally got our shit together and went. Chartwell, of course, was the home of Winston Churchill and his family from 1922 until his death in 1965. It’s been maintained by the National Trust ever since as part historic house and part museum to Churchill’s life. Located in the Kent countryside it’s about sixteen or so miles from my house making it a quite easy afternoon out.

The house itself is set in amongst a small set of hills and a generous sprawl of gardens populated with a range of plants and water features. The house rises up on a raised flat that gives a series of breathtaking views across the rolling fields of Kent that, reportedly, was part of the reason Churchill fell in love with the property and bought it, against the advice of friends and, indeed, his own wife. It is an odd red brick Victorian building that, taken in another setting, I’m not sure many would care for, in spite of the changes Britain’s most famous Prime Minister wrought on it.

Thankfully, no one really comes to look at the architecture: they come to look at the grounds – beautiful – and the interior – strange but fascinating – and therein is its charm: for the interior is more or less preserved as it would have been when Churchill lived there. I’m not sure what I expected but walking through the house produces a weird, not unpleasant, presence of its famous owner, as if he just stepped out for the moment to walk in the garden, perhaps enjoying a cigar. Perhaps its the relative closeness of the period in which he lived, the furnishings are after all not that out of date really – not to my tastes but certainly not Victorian or Edwardian – and that adds a false familiarity of time if nothing else. Or maybe, in spite of the scale of the house, the distinct sense of family about the property.

The point is it was a more intimate kind of history that the building gave off and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the house. Not least because nearly every room had a bookcase of some description, crammed with books, and a library room filled with rather more books. I managed to resist making off with some. Just. I remain somewhat in awe of Churchill’s own literary output and wonder – in spite of the servants – if he ever slept. It was a pleasant few hours, take a look next time you’re passing.

The rest of the weekend has been just as pleasant and a welcome break at the end of a crushingly paced week.





Bodleian

21 07 2009

Not an awful lot to report.

I spent last weekend in Oxford and, after a somewhat unfortunate incident with the hotel room, had lovely time seeing old friends.

It was my first time in the city. It’s a strange place full of contradictions: we passed a mock tudor McDonalds on the way into the city by car and then, walking through the centre, we saw an actual historical building that had a Pret shoehorned into it. The city is a layer cake of architecture ranging from the Anglo-Saxon to the present, from the well preserved to the careworn and heaving with tourists at this time of year.

We were lucky enough to have access to some of the university as we were attending a wedding reception on site. I wasn’t immediately familiar with where we were until G and I wandered round one of the courtyards. It was a strange somewhat dislocated sensation as I realised I was standing in an area I’d seen in any number of television programmes and films – Morse and Harry Potter being two of the more obvious. But for me, of course, it was all about Tolkien because we were by Bodleian library, where the Red Book of Hergest is kept and some of Tolkein’s own manuscripts now live.

As regards my own writing I am still focussing on short stories while I sort out the current backlog of longer ideas. Reading wise I have been on something of fantasy binge and so, once I have finished Looking for Jake and other stories, I think I’ll be tackling something out of my comfort zone. I am also compiling the all important Holiday Reading list on which I shall spend most of my backage allowance. Happy days.





Inclement

7 03 2009

Charing Cross aren’t very good at updating their tanoy messages. They’ve been running the same “Please take care due to today’s inclement weather” message whether the weather has been inclement or not.

I’m not irritated by that. After all, I have eyes and am perfectly capable of a risk assessment on whether or not to run down the platform in the rain. The message is for the other people.

Anyway, the thing that’s always bugged me is that South Eastern uses the word “inclement”.

In response to being asked what the weather is like I have never responded by saying “It’s inclement” and, hopefully, I never will. Not because I dislike the word, far from it, it’s a lovely sounding word and that’s the point – it doesn’t sound like it’s describing bad weather with all its inherent problems such as damp collar, biting winds, treacherous conditions underfoot and late trains.

Now, a cynical man would suggest that this is precisely why the rail companies insist on using this phrase, instead of just saying “today’s bad weather”. Of course – as you know – I am in no way cynical. Others might suggest it’s an affectation of an overly articulate member of South Eastern’s staff but I speak to these people every day and I find that unlikely. Really pedantic people might suggest that subconsciously the rail company is attempting to pass some kind of moral judgement on the weather’s lack of mercy to their need to operate a functioning rail service. Such people should be locked up. They are not to be trusted.

I know they do it just to confuse the tourists and chavs.





Sunday Evening Musings

18 01 2009

stonehengeweb

I’m back in London.

My attempt to blog from my mobile seemed to go a bit awry and there was a double posting. I managed to remove the doubler through some fiddling on IE but my 3g HTC seems to be getting old and senile – hopefully it will hang together for a little longer as I don’t really want to replace it until the summer. Of course, I wouldn’t have had to use it at all if Travel lodge weren’t so mercenary with their wireless pricing (£5 for an hour or £10 for 24 hours). Anyway: onto the weekend.

We managed to crawl from bed early enough that we got to Stonehenge a short time after sunrise. It was the first time we’d really used the sat nav and I was a bit skeptical as to whether it had sent us the right way because you can’t see the site at all on approach. The thing was blinking we were practically on top of the place and all we could see were steep banks and trees. Then we came over the ridge. The thing was built in such a way that the stones look larger from a distance and, although the road does not pass over the same place as the prehistoric “avenue”, it’s still pretty impressive. It also gives an angle from which the Henge looks most complete.

On the first draft of Forever I’d worked pretty much from google maps and so I was quite nervous as to whether I was going to find what I’d written wouldn’t work at all. Surprisingly, the majority of the sequence does not require heavy lifting but I did find that a couple of character positions need shifting for the sake of at least some shred of plausibility. The Henge itself is kind of weird. As I said, from the distance it looks more complete than it actually is. On the standard circuit you can see the site has had a lot of wear and you can almost understand why they keep people at a distance but ultimately I wanted to stand amongst the stones. I’m going to see if there’s a way I can sort this out sometime in the future. Still: I got what I needed as well as some useful background material that can be used in the current draft.

We spent rather more time at the Henge than originally intended and so didn’t get to Glastonbury until after lunch. Again, the Tor made a pretty impressive landmark on the approach into town but by this time the weather was beginning to turn and so we decided to climb the Tor on Sunday. This pleased me because it meant I got to trawl the bookshops and look at lots of expensive out-of-print books I couldn’t afford and drink copious amounts of tea in the many cafes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so many Wicca shops in one place. It was fun.

The one thing I really noticed is how pleasant people were. Coming from London it made a bit of a change for people to say “Hello” for no other reason than they were passing you in the street and this pleasant custom continued as we made our way up the Tor this morning. Last night the weather was pretty much as bad as it could be: furious wind and lashing rain that left you soaked in like thirty seconds. We weren’t hopeful for today. Yet, somehow the rain cleared and we had blue skies as far as the eye could see. Although it was windy, the views on the way up more than made up from it. Indeed it was so clear that we suspect – perhaps erroneously – that we could see Stonehenge on the horizon.

And then it was time to come home. I had some other things I wanted to see but we just couldn’t fit them in. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m not to worried, it was a fun way to spend the weekend and I’m pretty sure I’ll be going back to that neck of the woods.

Now, I have a novel to be getting on with.





Dear Southeastern

4 01 2009

Dear Southeastern,

Thank you so much for the notification on train fares rising.

It means so much to me that you think I, along with thousands of my fellow residents, can afford yet another above inflation rise in the price of my ticket that takes my travel costs to nearly a hundred pounds a month. Clearly you have a much higher opinion of me than either my bank or employer.

The gift of assumed economic status is nothing compared to your unparallelled generosity in consistently keeping me on the train in the mornings well past my expected time of arrival (pretty much every week in November) and thus preventing me from wasting my valuable time attending meetings that would only distract me from important matters of the day. You know: like whether I have a towel in my bag to wipe of the sweat from your lavish heating levels.

And it’s touching how concerned you are for my health. You’re quite right of course: being able to sit down on my way into work would be foolish and bad for my heart. Much better to stand and build up my immunity by breathing in my fellow commuter’s germs. Ah Southeastern: you are the line that just keeps giving.

In fact, so impressive is your service that sometimes you’re able to take the entire day off. Sometimes two or three times in a row. Naturally, during your sabbaticals,  I don’t expect you to make alternative arrangements for us mere mortals simply in order that we can go to work. As for safety – well who doesn’t enjoy a good punch up after a hard day’s work?

Personally, I think you do a fine job and that the South East of London is clearly a bastion of wealth, suffering in no way from crushing poverty, unemployent and under investment. Our glorious towers of classic 1950s architecture clearly show the flow of money through the hills of Woolwich, Thamesmead and the like. It is clearly nonsense to talk of the importance of the rising number of commuters being able to get into the city easily as having any impact on the economy of the region. Dear me, that would be like saying public transport has an impact on the economy as well as the environment.

Utter poppycock of course. Personally I can’t stand travelling by train in say France or Hong Kong. I mean what is someone supposed to do with all that space and clean air and if you arrive everywhere on time what do you do with all that extra time you have? Sell it?

So thank you Southeastern – I will give up my hundred pounds a month willingly. What’s that? A funny smell on the notes? Oh pay no attention to that, we’re simply in the process of improving your sensory experience of cash.

Neil

PS – Please find this chocolate log that I baked especially as a token of my appreciation.





Something to make you smile

7 10 2008

I laughed my arse off at this:





Top five Interstellar Tips for Driving in London

15 07 2008

For those of you visiting London for the first time, whatever system you derive from originally, you should familiarise yourself with the following tips:

1. The use of telepathy and indeed indicators is forbidden; instead you are required to use the Terran ritual custom called “guessing”.

2. There are a number of human greetings for fellow drivers ranging from the simple one finger salute to the more complex rhythmic flick of the wrist. You should learn as many as possible and remember that status is conferred for original combinations.

3. You will note an orange lifeform called “cones”. These are parasitic organisms that live off the road and reproduce at a fierce rate. They should be avoided wherever possible and never exposed to bare skin – unless you like the idea of one growing out of your head.

4. Where roads intersect you may often find yourself facing a black pole upholding a black box filled with lights. Despite much analysis we have been unable to determine the underlying logic for these light boxes or any meaningful pattern. You should ignore them as the natives do.

5. You will also observe that some Terrans are riding small, manually powered, two wheel conveyances. Such locals are wanted criminals and rewards are offered for each one you kill: you know what to do.





There and Back Again

18 05 2008

Well, I’m back in the UK again, sat upon my bright red couch and trying to stay awake until the sun goes down. It occurred to me – after I’d done it – that working out I’d been up since 11pm Friday UK time wasn’t the best way to go about that.

We had a fantastic time in New Zealand. It was really cool meeting up with M and C after such a long time; their place overlooking Evan’s Bay has views that I honestly don’t think one could ever get tired of. Christchurch was a huge amount of fun and of course our trip to Kaikoura was a particular highlight.

Hell, I even managed to write a fair bit. And while I’m on the subject I’m pleased to report that I’ve finished another two chapters of the third draft of The Woodsman as well as starting a new short story. Most importantly I began to have ideas again, they – ideas – generally dry up when I’m burned out as I was before I left the UK and only return once my shoulders drop down from around my ears.

Now I have until Tuesday morning to get over my jet lag before I rejoin the real world once more. I think sleep is going to feature rather large on my agenda as well as my quarterly shear in aid of looking vaguely like I’m gainfully employed.

I’m going now as I’ve started talking about haircuts – a sure sign I’m waaay too tired.








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