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Friday, 30 November 2012

The Good Cop

I spend a lot of time trawling through the news sites, looking for stories that might inspire me. A lot of the time what I find depresses me beyond belief. Occasionally I find one so touching it brings a tear to my eye. There's one such story featuring on many sites today.
It's the story of a New York cop who bought a pair of winter boots for a barefooted homeless man. I'm linking to the Daily Mail's coverage of the story because, as is so often the case, they've given the story the most coverage.
For the cynics out there, from what I can gather having read the story on various sites, the police officer didn't know he was being photographed, he was just genuinely concerned for the poor guy.

Man's Best Friend

It snowed! Admittedly only a teeny bit, but still. We woke up to a smattering of snow! Last weekend the country was in the grip of howling wind and driving rain, this weekend it's frozen!
And it would seem that the UK is not alone in facing weather issues. A storm in the Netherlands left firefighters wrestling with a dangerously damaged tree. Their attempts to haul the tree safely to the ground with a rope seemed to be failing, until a passing dog came to the rescue.
I swear, they couldn't have done it without him!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

New Story

There's a new story with a seasonal flavour on the Quirky Tales website today. It's called 'Crackers', which either describes the story or possibly myself, take your pick. In short, Christmas dinner turns up some unexpected treats for the family. There's no deep message in it, just a little dose of sentiment.
Hope you enjoy it.

Health and Safety Made Fun

The words 'health and safety video' typically inspire a feeling of dread and images of a rather dreary man in a hi-viz jacket speaking woodenly into a wobbling camera. It would seem that the Aussies do it rather better, however. Metro Trains Melbourne has come up with a cartoon designed to help people understand that dicing with their trains, trying to beat level crossing gates and not taking care on platforms are actually pretty dumb things to do.
I feel I must issue a couple of warnings:
  • for those of a sensitive disposition: the film depicts cartoon characters in scenes of extreme peril and even suffering grizzly ends
  • you're going to be singing that darned song for the rest of the day

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

An Unusual Sort of Home

We have a cowbell hanging up at the back of our house, a clich├ęd memento from a trip to the Alps. For the most part, I forget it's there, normally receiving an abrupt reminder when I clonk my head on it en-route to the garage. But recently we've been having some strange experiences in its vicinity. For instance, the other day when I blundered out there to unlock the garage door, I was shocked to hear a frantic fluttering of wings, mere millimetres from my ear as I walked by the bell. Now, admittedly it was getting dark, but I was pretty sure I would have seen any bird perched on it. I mentioned it to he who fixes the computer and he confirmed that he'd had similar experiences. Our suspicions rose as further incidents occurred.
So today when I went out to unlock the door I kept a careful watch on the bell. I'll confess right now, I did jump, and I may even have gasped, but as I passed by, a bird (we've since discovered it's a bluetit) flew out from inside the bell. Dry, impossible for predators to get inside, the enterprising bluetit has obviously decided it makes the perfect shelter.
I've yet to work out how he perches inside it. I have visions of him tying himself to the clapper so he can nod off without falling out. However he does it, he's definitely claimed our Alpine memento as his home.
Now, I must remember not to accidentally walk into it when going to the garage.

Crazy Coaster

Those of you who have been following this blog for some time might remember a post about a You Tube video of a guy haring down a monorail in Austria. The guy was David Jellis, the single-pipe coaster was the Mieders Alpine Coaster, and the video was of him riding the rail without using his brakes.
Well, David Jellis is back, this time on a slightly larger coaster, still abstaining from brakes. The coaster this time is the Imst Alpine Coaster, but his attempt to break the record descent time is foiled by his friend riding the car in front who, clearly thinking of a future beyond the next two minutes, has taken a slightly more cautious approach.
It's worth running the video just to listen to the insane giggling.

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Dreaded Ideas Clog

I was staring at a blank screen, tapping out sentences that I immediately deleted, fighting every word that tried to make the perilous journey from brain to keyboard. It was hopeless. I couldn't write. Ideas disintegrated, narrative became clumsy, dialogue absurdly laboured. At last in frustration, I got up and walked away from the computer taking my notepad and pen. Suddenly the ideas were flowing faster than I could get them down. My pen nib was at breaking point as I scrawled down a story plan, trying to capture all the key points before they vanished.
It added poignancy to the report on the BBC news site last week suggesting that some people favour old fashioned typewriters as they force a writer to focus so much more. The lack of an easy delete, or a swift peek at the internet, or the emails, or a You Tube video, means the ideas box finally creaks fully open and the brain is allowed to focus on that one task.
Maybe I need to restart my internet diet, turn off the radio, close the curtains, and pretend my worn out Comfort Curve keyboard is an old style Brother. While I'm at it, I might see if I can find a sturdy prop for my ideas box. Mine keeps slamming shut just as I'm reaching in.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Grand Finish

We might have to buy a new television, I think I've screamed our old one into oblivion. But it was worth it. Sebastian Vettel won the Formula 1 World Championship! For the third time! Despite driving backwards for part of it along a damp race track, with racing cars hurtling towards him at race speed!
Congratulations to Vettel on a richly deserved title win. Congratulations to Team Red Bull, for their championship team win. And congratulations to Jenson Button, for a supreme piece of wet-weather driving all the way to the race win.
Now I'm off to Comet to see if they have any televisions left.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Returning to Strategy

Home computers started their march into common parlance while I was still in school. I remember well the excitement of owning a ZX Spectrum. I also remember well the frustrations of copying out lines of code on that awful keyboard only to find the resulting programme was so full of bugs that, had it been a dog, it would have been euthanised by a compassionate vet. But despite it's limitations it became quite a cult in my school, with games and pokes being swapped at breaktime. I have fond memories of Manic Miner, Jet pac and that hit and miss business of stopping the tape at just the right point to add the line of code that gave unlimited lives.
I continued as a gamer for several years, becoming something of an addict with the advent of the Myst series. No pokes, no tapes, just an awesome game that challenged the intellect. I adored those games. Sadly, they are no longer made. Gaming moved away from beautiful settings, puzzles and escapism and descended into anarchy, shooting, maiming and killing. I hate what's happened. Games like Myst were a force for good. I came away from playing them feeling calm, contented, intellectually elevated. I don't think anyone could honestly claim to feel that when they play Call of Duty. I know it's unlikely that the cut-throat business of gaming will return to such expensive and detailed productions, but I lament their passing all the same.
I still play SimCity 2000 on my creaky old Windows laptop. It's flaky at best, the graphics frequently struggle, at times it locks up completely, and I've played it so many times now that I know all the tricks and fixes, so it hardly represents a challenge any more. Which is why I was delighted to hear that a new version is due to be released. This version looks to be graphically intense. A new laptop will certainly be required to handle the processing, but if this signals a return to a more strategic type of gaming, I'll raid the kitty, sweep the streets, and take on a paper round to raise the money for a new machine. It will, to me, be worth it.
For anyone interested, video footage of the new far more interactive game is available on the SimCity website.
I'm waiting with baited breath for the return of the Myst series. Please? Anyone?

Coder at Work

A few years ago, when our daughter started in the sixth form, he who fixes the computer designed an add-on for Firefox which would allow her to toggle her computer settings between home internet and school internet at the click of a button.
He made it available to the wider community where it proved popular, with most people giving the add-on glowing reviews. There were the odd one or two who seemed to think a free add-on to toggle internet proxy settings should also be able to boil the kettle, walk the dog and service the car, but you always get folk like that. The one criticism was that the button was in the status bar at the bottom of the page rather than in the toolbar.
He who fixes the computer hadn't a clue how to put the button in the toolbar and lacked the time to figure it out, so the button stayed at the bottom. He recently found a bit of time and so began the research, the experimental coding, the mumbling punctuated by the occasional outburst of slightly manic laughter. Last night it didn't appear to be going well. He's not a man given to foul language, but it seemed to be a close thing at times. But then he started punching the air. He has it figured. The button is on the toolbar. He has a bit of dotting and crossing to do before it's available to the user, but it was a happy computer fixer strutting and preening around the house last night.
Hopefully the users will be pleased with the results, though no doubt there will be someone who thinks it should now be able to predict the lotto results, pinpoint the location of Atlantis and stop all natural disasters. They'll have to wait a bit longer for that.
Toggle Proxy is available on the Firefox add-on site.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pothole Art

The roads around these parts are in a bad way. Negotiating one particular junction close to our home requires a sturdy 4x4, ropes, a couple of planks and a steady nerve. I heard a rumour that a Smart car was lost in the ravines there the other week and has never been seen again. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only a little.
It's not just that all the potholes and ruts and bumps make for uncomfortable journeys and additional repair bills, they're unsightly too. So much so that one artist/ gardener/ photographer has set out on a project to turn potholes into little gardens. He says he's not trying to make a point, he just wants to make people smile, so he fills potholes with grass and plants and even miniature benches and accessories.
He photographed his 'gardens' and compiled a book available from Amazon, called 'The Little Book of Little Gardens'.
If it ever stops raining I might head out with my trowel and see about beautifying some of our local potholes. Just don't tell the council!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Torture by Bacon

My morning walk takes me past a house where breakfast of choice is bacon. Every day. Every - single - day. Even on a wet and windy day like today, with every house buttoned up against the weather, the smell of frying bacon stretches out, through the letterbox, across the front lawn, and all the way down the road. It's enough to drive you mad. One day, I'm going to turn up on their doorstep with an empty plate and a pleading look. It'll serve them right for torturing me every morning.
So when I sat down at my desk this morning, tummy rumbling and thoughts of bacon resolutely fixed in my head, the story I found on the Mail's website was almost too much to bear. It's the story of a beautiful model train. It's absolutely stunning, every detail exquisitely rendered, each part as close to technical perfection as possible. So why, I hear you ask, did it excite such a reaction in me? The entire thing, right down to the fruit in the bowl in one of the carriages, is made of chocolate.
The rumbles from my stomach are now practically deafening. Bacon. Chocolate. Bacon. Chocolate. Coming soon to a social networking site near you: a photo of me gnawing determinedly on a corner of my desk.

Monday, 19 November 2012

When Santa got Stuck .. in the Shopping Mall?

Okay, I told you I'd keep my eyes open. Here's a funny:
Father Christmas arrived to switch on the lights at a Reading shopping centre. To make his grand entrance it was decided he should abseil in - apparently sleighs are out this year. Unfortunately he reckoned without his beard and got stuck, 15ft from the ground, his whiskers firmly entangled in his ropes.
To all the good children out there, do not be alarmed. Father Christmas was eventually rescued and now has his feet, and his beard, safely back on the ground. I think next year he plans to stick with his old fashioned sleigh.

Today's Roundup

There are some good news stories out there at the moment but you have to dig to find them. Possibly the most exciting news comes from the scientists who have reversed paralysis in dogs by injecting them with cells from the lining of their noses. It's a long way from offering a treatment for paralysed humans, but it's still a huge breakthrough.
There is also of course the news that the annual BBC Children in Need appeal raised even more money than last year, achieving a record £26.8m. I think I must be getting old and cranky because I found myself switching off after about fifteen minutes, my tolerance for the amateurish antics of some of the presenters failed me - bring back Gabby Roslin, please! Nevertheless, it's a fantastic achievement and the money will be put to the very best use helping children in desperate need. Donations are still being collected on the Children in Need website.
On the home front, we received some bad news about the endowment mortgage so we have chosen to be sensible and not use the savings in the purchase of a motorhome. Once we're finally rid of this rotten mortgage we can spend our money how we choose, but until then the house has to come first.
After a break from the writing I'm now back in creative mode and have started a new story which will hopefully find its way into the third of the QT Anthologies. Book Two still proudly sports its five star review, and I've received some fantastic comments and feedback from readers. If you have any questions or comments about any of the Unseen Stories, please feel free to comment on this post and I'll answer as best I can.
Meanwhile Christmas preparations are going well, though I know I'll have a meltdown in a couple of weeks and descend into a flat panic.
So that's todays roundup. My eyes are peeled for funny news stories to share with you, but supplies seem to be running low. Watch this space!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

A Tall Story

There is a man from Dundee who dresses in a giraffe costume, made by his mother, who goes out and carries out good deeds for total strangers. Sometimes he hands out bananas, sometimes he gives out coffee, he's helped clean a beach and cages at a cat and dog home, and he's given out vouchers to new mothers, all while dressed in his giraffe costume.
He busks to raise the money to fund his good deeds and hitchhikes to his chosen destinations, though only in convertables because, clearly, a giraffe just wouldn't fit in a conventional car.
According to the BBC's story of the 'Good Giraffe', he chose to be a giraffe because they're his favourite animal. He also admits that, like giraffes, his head is in the clouds but his heart is in the right place.
I'm normally a bit spooked by people in costume, but the Good Giraffe looks so funny and is obviously such a lovely guy, I could be persuaded to overcome my phobia.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Consequences

On my daily prowl through the BBC news site I came across a story that really got me thinking. It's the story of an Iranian professor who's photograph was mistakenly used by the Western media in the coverage of the brutal death of a young woman at a demonstration in Tehran.
The two women had similar names, the professor was Neda Soltani, the murdered demonstrator was Neda Agha-Soltan, which led to the professor's image being taken from her Facebook page in a case of spectacular misidentification. The rest of the media then followed suit and the unwitting and entirely uninvolved professor's image became the face of the story.
She quickly found herself having to answer to the Iranian authorities, who initially wanted to use her to counter what they saw as Western propaganda. When she refused things really got ugly and she was forced to flee the country.
Had she stayed, there's a good chance she would have been executed as a traitor, but fleeing meant giving up everything, her home, her family, her friends and her career. All because someone didn't care enough to check they had the right person.
Mistaken identity, extraordinary consequences, the total lack of understanding or concern by the media - I'm a little uncomfortable by how this story has inspired me to write, but I suppose we can't always be inspired by daffodils.
For more on this story, here's the link to the BBC's website.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Defying the Odds

You might think that reaching your 106th birthday would be enough cause for celebration, but for one Flintshire man it has even more significance, since he was declared dead 76 years ago. Injuries resulting from a serious disagreement with a motorbike led doctors to believe that Sam Ledward had died. Thankfully as he was wheeled to the morgue the porter noticed a slight movement and rushed him straight back to the ward. He now puts his long life down to sheer luck, but I reckon the porter deserves some of the credit.
Wishing you a very Happy Birthday, Mr Ledward!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Purrfect Delivery (sorry!)

I believe I may have mentioned before on this blog how much I like receiving parcels, but I've decided that from now on I want them all to be delivered by Rudi Saldia. Before he who fixes the computer flies into a jealous rage, I should point out that while Mr Saldia is a handsome young man with a very cool moustache, what makes him so attractive as a delivery man is his ever present assistant. Mr Saldia is cycle courier from Philadelphia and his assistant is his cat, MJ, who accompanies him by riding on his shoulder. The Mail website has plenty of photos as well as a video of MJ and Rudi in action, from which it's clear to see that MJ and Rudi adore each other. MJ seems very contented perched on her owner's shoulder, and I don't imagine there is a cat anywhere else in the world that gets more fuss and attention.
I wonder if they could be persuaded to deliver to a small village in the UK ...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Ian Rankin on Imagine

I just watched the BBC programme 'Imagine' featuring Ian Rankin and his writing process. I found it fascinating and was stunned by so much of what he said about writing: the panics, the research, the ideas, the gnawing fear. In my case, I have all of those, but then I'm not there yet as an established writer. He's a bestselling author and he still doubts himself.
It was enlightening to watch his process, beginning in January with a trawl through his folder of ideas, to thumping out the first draft on his laptop - how does he type so fast using only two fingers? I was interested to see that he took a road trip to reassure himself of the geography of his book and how being in those places inspired new lines of narrative.
The programme has left me feeling slightly more hopeful, though perhaps not altogether optimistic about my chances of coming up with the winning formula in my writing. He had a hard time initially getting people interested in Rebus, perseverance was the key. It's hard to persevere when you're not at all sure you have any talent to start with, but still, I do now have a five star review!
I also realised we even share an approach to dealing with the endless PPI Claimline calls - though of course I would never use such colourful language, honest Mum!
It was an inspirational programme and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in writing, or the work of Ian Rankin.

Remembrance

Halloween is over, Fireworks night/ week/ month, is gone, and now the UK prepares for its annual day of Remembrance. It's always a poignant day, but particularly so this year as it falls on Sunday, Armistice Day.
As part of its commemoration of this sombre time, the BBC has produced a video of the Poppy Factory. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of the symbol of our remembrance and well worth finding a few minutes for.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Fighting Back After Sandy

The reassuring clonks from the heating pipes, as well as the odd gurgle from the radiators (they need bleeding!) were welcome sounds this morning as our part of the UK woke up to a thick frost. Even with the heating on I can feel a slight chill in my fingertips, but I'm not going to complain when, with the weather turning ever colder, so many people in the States have lost their homes and so many more still have no power following the destruction caused by Hurricane/ Storm Sandy.
And yet, amidst the chaos and misery, emerge stories of the best of humanity.
There are tales across the internet of people who still have power, feeding out cables and inviting people to charge their phones. There are stories of bands of neighbours working together to clear fallen trees from nearby roads. Donations of money, food and clothing have poured in to the relief fund. Then there's the man who's become known as 'the coffee guy' because each morning he goes out and fires up his outside gas grill to make coffee for neighbours and emergency workers. Not to mention all the eateries in New York providing free food and the sports clubs offering people free exercise, shower and phone charge.
It's amazing how often you can find the good stuff beneath a bad news story. Best wishes to all those caught up in the current difficulties. Wishing you all a speedy return to normal, and no more rotten weather.

Monday, 5 November 2012

QT Anthology Success

It's been an exiting weekend. The launch of the second of the QT Anthologies was a great success, with a healthy download rate that saw it ranking high on the first page of anthologies. So, a huge thank you to all the readers out there who downloaded the book.
And to 'andy', I haven't been able to wipe the five star smile off my face yet. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to leave feedback, not just for the five star review of Book Two but also for the four star review of Book One.
Book Three is still on the drawing board. It's taken a back seat lately while I've been completing other projects but I plan to get to work on it in earnest in the next few weeks. I've been working on a longer story, a thriller, that I hope to include in it but it's already topping the scales at 30,000 words. It may be that it's too long to warrant inclusion in a short story collection, but if I can balance it out with the other stories it might work. I'll post progress reports here every so often.
The other bit of excitement this weekend was a mini step forwards in the motorhome hunt. We travelled down to look at a van advertised on a dealer's website, anticipation turning to dismay when we saw the state of it. I should perhaps stick to diplomatically saying we won't be parting with our savings on that one! But whilst there we saw another van, much newer, a better layout, pristine and beautiful. It was too expensive, but we put in a tentative offer and await news. It's only a teeny step, but it's a step nonetheless.
So, a good weekend all round. Thank you again to all my readers. I hope you're enjoying the anthology. And to anyone who missed out, the collection is available from Amazon. Clicking the book on the right will take you to the relevant page. The free promotion may have ended, but it's still a bargain price!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Just a Reminder

Don't forget that the launch promotion for the second of the QT Anthologies is still running. If you haven't already downloaded the collection there's still time to get it for the bargain price of ... nothing! My favourite price! The promotion ends sometime tomorrow, so don't delay.


Friday, 2 November 2012

Fisher Dog

There is a short video on the Telegraph's website today showing footage of a flooded river in Washington. The flooding is, perhaps unexpectedly, causing problems for the local fish. The river burst its banks and covered a nearby road, leaving migrating salmon facing some previously unknown hazards i.e. road traffic and, as the video demonstrates, pet dogs!
I love that dog. He looks so happy with his fish. But he's going to be so disappointed when the floods recede.

Go for Launch!

The Launch Promotion of The QT Anthology, Book Two, Unseen Stories has now started! The book is available, free of charge, from now until Sunday 4th November. 


Thursday, 1 November 2012

QT Anthology, Book Two

The second of the QT Anthologies is now ready. I'm launching it this weekend with a free promotion running for three days, starting Friday 2nd November, ending Sunday 4th November. I can't be specific about start times as they do vary, so please do check that it's on promotion before you download.
Here's the product description:

The second of the QT Anthologies comprises fourteen brand new stories of varying length and genre. Featuring the light-hearted experiences of a night school cleaner, the fable of Jack Frost, a thriller set in the mountains, storms, villains, and heart-warming tales, there's something in this collection for everyone. To help you choose which story to read next each title is listed with its word count, ranging from 500 words to 10,500.

And here's the link to the Kindle page: The QT Anthology, Book Two, Unseen Stories
I'm pretty proud of this collection. There are some short and silly ones, but there are also some much longer, more thoughtful stories. I had a lot of fun writing them and I really hope you enjoy reading them.

Helicopter Hero

There's a great story on the Mail's site this morning. It features a tree, a helicopter and a remote controlled plane. Two men were in a helicopter when the pilot noticed a boy flying a remote controlled aeroplane. As they watched, the boy crashed his plane into a very tall tree and presumably thought it was lost forever, but the pilot decided to come to his rescue. Scroll through the article to the video at the bottom. It'll put a smile on your face.