6 05 2010

Election night in the UK.

I had, once upon a time, a long ranty post planned about how poor the choice was in this election. I had a belligerent plan to ignore it.

I still feel the old system of monolithic parties that you follow on *every* policy (a la Polly-whats-her-face at the Grauniad) is a pretty piss poor way to implement your democracy – bordering on a bi-decade elected oligarchy. And don’t get me started on the baby boomer agenda. In the end I voted for the party that least annoyed me.


At least there appears to have been engagement, people cared, and that’s important. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get real change.

And I don’t mean Cameron.

NB – If you are swinging through because of my various attempts at satire, please do – if you weren’t too offended – check out my fiction.

iPad: Meh.

28 01 2010

As everyone and their goat seems to be posting about the iPad I thought I’d join in.

First some background: I am 30 year old, professional with no children and a reasonable amount of disposable income each month and yes: I own many Apple products. Our computer set up: two Macs, one PC and enough iPods and iPhones to launch a franchise. I have a moderate gadget habit and spend 15 hours a week commuting. In short: in their target market.

Good stuff:

Some people are sniffing at the price. Compared to a netbook that’s a fair cop but it’s certainly a damn bit cheaper than some people were expecting.

The battery life seems pretty good.

There’s a great deal of scope for digital books (there’s a concern here as well) that have been held back by poor UI and screen technology.

Bad stuff:

The design is missing all sorts of things – like connectivity – but mainly it looks like an oversized iPhone and that’s just wrong.

The hard drive is too small.

Multi-tasking is an odd one, as is the reliance on the iPhone OS and severely limits the kit. I don’t really want a mobile OS on a piece of kit that expensive.

iWork is alright but still not my first choice.

Closed platform is bad and does grate. I’m still waiting for more details of DRM around the new system and how independent producers can get stuff into the platform.

The external keyboard dock looks kind of odd and I’m not sure, if you were going to go the iPhone OS route, why you would do that. It would be better, surely, to introduce a Mac Book Pro (13 inch) with a swivel touch screen, no?

Who’s it aimed at?

It’s very niche. I can’t see the masses picking one up because the functionality is too limited and the size is too odd for most people’s every day travel requirements. If you fly a lot you might well look to replace your kindle with one of these, or if you travel a lot and importantly if you consume more media than you produce. It isn’t going to be that useful for writers, or photographers, or artists.

I think it’s a typical first generation Apple device where they’ve created something with lots of cool stuff but not quite figured out how to put it together properly. I expect some interesting iterative changes in the first few generations of device and some kind of mash up with the full laptop range.

I don’t want one. Yet.


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.

Stark complexity

28 04 2009

I see Starkey was at it again last week.

David Starkey is ostensibly a historian specialising in – oh the irony – the Tudors but seems more intent these days in generating media attention by wresting the coveted rudest-man-in-television-award away from celebrity chefs and lazy back-combed stand-ups back to its rightful place amongst pseudo-academics. Yes: he annoyed me but probably not for the reasons you’d think.

The comments, from last week’s Question Time, that produced the media attention were:

“If we decide to go down this route of an English national day it will mean we have become a feeble little country, just like the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish.

“The Scots and the Welsh are typical small nations with a romantic 19th century-style nationalism.”

Now, as most regular readers will know I am Welsh, and it’s not unreasonable to expect me to be annoyed because, whilst I am not anything like what you would call a nationalist (nor a Welsh speaker), I do identify with my home culture. I am not someone who was just born there; my family is Welsh going back quite a way and Welsh speaking from my grandparent’s generation back. Yet it wasn’t as a Taff I got annoyed. It was as someone who studied history, reads history in my spare time and, indeed, has a passing awareness of the current geo-political map.

The quote was in response to the question ‘should England have a public holiday for St George’s day?’. Wales does not enjoy a public holiday on St David’s day, Scotland does because it has its own parliament (the Welsh National Assembly is not a parliament whatever my countrymen might assert) and Eire is not part of the United Kingdom but a fully independent nation state that naturally has its own bank holidays. Of course Starkey knows this, he is simplifying in order to make a point and because he holds us, the audience, in contempt. We can’t digest complexity.

If Wales and Scotland are feeble little countries so then is England because, just like Wales and Scotland, it is not a nation state. It is one of the countries that makes up the nation state of the UK enjoying its own patron saint (St George) and sports teams and its own share of vocal nationalists. The nation state in which I live is, to give its full name, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Notice there is no mention of England or Wales or Scotland?

The truth is this country was created over thousands of years by many different tribes and emerging fractal kingdoms kicking the shit out of each other, being invaded by Vikings, Irish, Anglo-Saxons and Normans before emerging in its current state. A “United Kingdom” that is actually a “Queendom” and occasional democracy populated by English, Welsh, Scot, Irish, Pakistanis, Hindus, Afro-Brits, Iranians, Iraqis, French, Italian, Serbs, Croatians, Poles – the list goes on. A “United Kingdom” that is so familiar with violent dissent that its citizens chief response to terrorist attack was to go to the pub. It is a dysfunctional, kaleidoscope of cultures banging against each other on a small collection of rocks on the east side of the Atlantic. In short:

We are complicated.

Perhaps it was that complicated nature that led the to the use of the Welsh Not in the eighteenth century and that was still in use into the mid-nineteenth century. A charming practice that involved hanging a piece of wood around the neck of children heard to be speaking Welsh in school until the end of the school day, when whichever poor sod was wearing the wood got lashed. It was such an unpleasant practice that in the mid-nineteenth century government reports into education denounced the practice – in spite of condemning other aspects of Welsh culture. Pesky people blurring the lines again.

Starkey is supposed to be a historian but he seems to have forgotten that history is, at its root, all about people. After all, country isn’t really a collection of borders and land; the nation state is merely a construct of people who share a set of resources based on landmass in order to ensure personal survival through mutual co-operation. History is the record told through recollections and records of events of what went before, people’s stories retold and distilled through the personal bias of the historian or teller but the by-product of people. No people, no history.

People, people, people, you can’t get away from it.

I can hazard a guess as to why Starkey feels the need to be so reductive that he makes himself look like an arse on a regular basis and that’s his weakness in falling for the glass teat’s seductive glow. No, stop – you see? I’m doing it now; I’m guilty of reductive thinking and showing my personal prejudice. It’s not the demon telly. It’s people again. There are a vocal segment of a population (in the sense they devote money, attention and consumption) who crave the simple story: the three act, simple premise, face of a thousand heroes, twenty-four hour news agenda filler, quotable sound bite. Popular media in most of its forms chases this lowest common denominator for the win and that’s all Starkey is doing: trying to get his name and his new series in front of that all-important virally consumptive audience.

It is all about people and, now that I think of it, it’s not Starkey I’m annoyed with. It’s the people that egg him on and – dare I say it – myself for devoting time to him, giving him the attention he craves like the media junky he has become in the drive for ratings.

People are complicated but Starkey is transparent.

Why make art?

31 03 2009

A perfectly valid question that uses art, I think, in it’s broadest sense and includes fiction. Or at least it does in my head.

The question was not asked of me (I saw it in the twitter stream), I’m not sure if anyone other than perhaps friends/family would be interested in my view and I think I may have partially addressed this in an earlier post. Still: it got me thinking. Why do I keep on writing and spending large amounts of time at this? Has my position shifted?

I thought of five reasons. Yes, it’s another list. Here goes:

1. Sanity – The glib answer I used to give was that writing was my way of taking my overactive thought processes and forcing them to consider something other than the day job. This was a nice, safe answer that didn’t carry with it any expectation of success and was, born out by my Myers Briggs profile, at least partially true. However, there are still occasions where the day job or specifically thinking about the day job can derail my creative efforts. And it provides no explanation for why I put my work “out there”.

2. Please myself – Very true. However, doing it just for yourself is a little to close to mental masturbation and again, more importantly, you’d never put the work out there for anyone to see. I get a kick out of it but that’s not the whole game.

3. It’s the way I’m wired – Also true. I have written stories since I could pick up a pen and often it’s the only way I make sense of the world around me. As a race we are, arguably, pre-programmed to acquire language and to spot patterns and to problem solve. Stories are, to a certain line of thinking, the by-product of evolutionary features such as imagination, communication and pattern recognition. Yet not everyone writes (although sometimes it feels like they do) and to reduce it all down to wiring feels too reductive. I don’t buy it.

4. God gives you a talent and you should use it – Sorry, no. This is just a variation on 3 with evolution substituted for God (or vice versa depending on your belief system) and it’s still reductive. Moreover, we’re in to a whole quagmire of how do you define talent and should you only do something if you’re immediately successful at it and I’m an atheist so let’s just move one.

5. Connection – Ah yes. There you are. There is nothing on this earth – in my humble opinion – like creating something that didn’t exist before and having another human being respond in surprise/delight/awe/shock/connection. To have taken something from your skull and transmitted it into someone else’s cranium. Each of us is encased in a fleshy prison of solitary confinement, bumping occasionally against each others’ cells, through art we can reach our fellow captives – we can even be touched by those artists who have long since made their escape. It’s telepathy, it’s magic, it’s fucking awesome.

And that’s why I do it.


20 03 2009

Sometimes you just need to hit bottom before you can come out the otherside.

For me that moment was yesterday when I found out that someone who had promised me faithfully they would do something hadn’t. Actually, it was more than one person but it occurred to me, or rather the observation crunched through my head like an anvil, that the world didn’t end because that stuff hadn’t been done. That in point of fact my soldiering on when I clearly needed a rest wasn’t just silly but really quite arrogant. And so I hit the brakes.

Which is a really convoluted way of saying I took the day off.

Today has been spent getting some of the ever growing pile of life stuff I needed to get done off my to do list, reading and attempting to write some flash. The later not going terribly well – the first attempt actually turned out to be a short story idea that I will have a crack at next week – but everything else was pretty good. I’m also looking at how I structure my week so I don’t keep hitting the wall like I’ve done through the first quarter of the year. 2009 is pretty much a pressure cooker – as it is for most people – and it’s no good whining about it. I’ve just got to adapt. It’s OK – I have a plan.

On the writing front there hasn’t been much going on. No excuses, I simply let my priorities get skewed but I’ve begun to bounce now. My plan is to try to finish the current draft of Forever by the time we put the kitchen in at the end of April/beginning of May. On the grounds that I won’t have as much time for that fortnight period and so it feels like a natural break point. I’ll probably do some more short fiction following that.

More blogging soon. Promise.

Top five 4AM Whisky Songs

10 03 2009

OK, so I was going to be lazy and post a music video again.

I had one of those Monday’s where I just want to stay up until the wee hours, sipping whisky and writing. Alas, I cannot do that but one of the songs I would probably stick on, if I were to stay up until 4AM is Be My Downfall. Of course when I tried to stick it on here I discovered YouTube was having yet another spat with the record companies and it wouldn’t embed.

And so in true Nick Hornby style I thought I’d post my top five 4AM Whisky Songs:

5. Be My DownfallDel Amitri (For the bad ones you know were no good but miss anyway.)

4. The Town that I lovedThe Dubliners (Hey, they were banned once. For the morose, the-past-was-drizzled-in-honey-and-grease-and-I-liked-it stage.)

3. Need Your Love So Bad – Fleetwood Mac – original line up (To truly enjoy this you need a whisky in one hand and someone close on your arm dancing round a nearly empty bar, slow.)

2. God is in the HouseNick Cave & The Bad Seeds (For the I-think-it’s-whisky-but-I’m-not-sure, I-finished-the-other-bottle-and-this-was-at-the-back. As-long-as-I-have-both-ears-in-the-morning-I’m-good.)

1. Je n’en connais pas la finJeff Buckley (Some would go for Hallelujah but you can practically taste the cigarette smoke on this one and of course that’s what it’s for. Sitting at a piano you can’t play, smoking cigarettes when you don’t actually smoke and nursing that last whisky that will send you to Dream.)

Actually, this could also easily be a top five songs to slit your wrists to. 4AM whisky music is a bit like that, fine lines. By way of lifting the mood of the list, I’ll point out that I Google You (written by Neil Gaiman for Peri Lyons – because she asked for a song not, as Neil points out, because he was googling her late at night – and recently covered by Amanda Palmer) narrowly missed out on making the list. Balls, that was a messy sentence.

Moving on. What’s your 4AM whisky music?