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Tuesday 31 January 2012

Sainsbury's and the Giraffes

Sainsbury's has decided to rebrand its Tiger Bread after a young girl (Lily Robinson, aged 3 and a half) wrote to them pointing out that it looks more like a giraffe than a tiger. Chris King (aged 27 and a third) wrote back to his young correspondent agreeing that Giraffe Bread was much more appropriate.
It's a fair point, and well done to them for being open to suggestions, but it's going to take a while for me to get used to the idea of Giraffe Bread!

Monday 30 January 2012

And I Thought I was Having a Bad Day at Work!

The Telegraph today carries the story of a cargo ship that ploughed through a bridge in Kentucky. According to the story, the ship was too tall to pass underneath the structure and ended up demolishing a section of it. The picture in the video shows a section of road teetering on the bow of the vessel.
Thankfully nobody was actually on that section at the time but just imagine it: driving along a road only to suddenly find yourself parked on the bow of a cargo ship!

Aren't Rules Meant to be Broken?

There are days when, despite a lifelong ambition, I'm ready to admit I might never make it as a professional writer. Today is one of those days. I normally avoid websites that offer advice to writers because I find that when I try too hard to follow 'rules' I write mechanically, without expression or fire. Recently though there has been much talk in a group I follow of various 'rules' being taught on a course a lot of the members are doing. I think I break them all. What's more, I don't want to change the way I write. I reviewed one of my recent stories with the 'rules' in mind and decided that if I changed it to fit, it would lose all its character.
I'm not convinced the rules should really be more than guidelines, things to consider but not slavishly follow, but the more I research, the more I find myself at odds with current thinking. Maybe I'm writing outside my time. Should I leave it to those who understand the rules and write accordingly?
But I love telling stories, making up worlds, creating characters. If you have an interesting plot, great characters, and a gripping and believable situation, surely that's what keeps a reader reading?

Did I Blink?

We had a family gathering this weekend for a birthday celebration, and very nice it was too. But it's strange how, even when there's a houseful, just one absentee can leave a very large gap. That certain rather special person couldn't make it back for this gathering and her absence was keenly felt.
I wouldn't mind but university seemed to come around so quickly. One minute she was small and charging around playing games with her cousins, the next she'd packed up her things and gone off in pursuit of a degree.
I'm pretty sure some rotten devil must have snuck in and stolen a couple of years.

Thursday 26 January 2012

A Model World

I've always been fascinated by models. Not the nubile, scantily clad, tousle haired and pouting lip kind, you understand, they just make me feel inadequate. But a model railway, or a model village, or better yet, a model village with a model railway, are things of joy to me. I'm fascinated by the detail, the exactness of scale, the world in perfect miniature.
As a child I spent many happy hours playing with the toy farm Dad made, delighting in the white three bar fences, the hay loft cleverly constructed out of doweling and a squash bottle, and the yard with its thoughtfully carved ramps to allow for easy access for our tractors.
I also had a Matchbox racing car set. It was fun, but I always felt it lacked a certain realism without grass, pits, grandstands etc. Plastic track perched on the lounge carpet fell slightly short of my grand ideas.
Maybe it's as well this man wasn't in business back then, because I would have been desperate for one of his creations. Mind you, I would have had to remove my bed and everything else from my bedroom to make way for it, not forgetting that my parents would have probably balked at the price tag!
Now, I know it's a very long time until Christmas, but it's never too early to start working on that list, is it?

Tuesday 24 January 2012

One Glimmer in the Gloom

It's a grey day, low wall-to-wall cloud, steady drizzle, a pervading chill with a steady breeze, because the wind wouldn't want to miss out on the action, would it? The news is demonstrating its usual capacity to outdo the weather in the gloom stakes; the national debt is higher than ever, despite reduced borrowing, there are more companies in administration discussions, drug offenders are avoiding jail and people on benefits are complaining that £26,000 wouldn't be enough to live on (I'd better not get started on that or I might break my own strict rules on the use of expletives in this blog).
And so it is that I'm very grateful to that certain rather special person for bringing to my attention the one funny story on offer. It concerns the troubling issue of Big Ben and his gathering tilt. There are two videos in the piece, the second one, halfway down the page is the one that put a smile on my face. Watch out for the final consultant at the end of the piece!

Monday 23 January 2012

New Yorkers Losing Their Accent?

I was distressed to read the report on the Telegraph's website suggesting the New York accent is in danger of disappearing because it's seen as less than correct. But it's a fantastic accent! How strange that it should be perceived so differently on opposite sides of the Atlantic! Imagine Detective Danny Messer, CSI NY, without his glorious Italian/ New Yorker accent - unthinkable!
 I won't insult New Yorkers by attempting to sign off in their fashion, but will simply say that I, for one, am a fan.

Vindication in the Software Issue!

My software issues were initially dealt with in much the manner I anticipated, in the form of a smug swagger as 'he who fixes the computer' announced he had undertaken all the tasks I mentioned without difficulty.
However, after I pointed out the procedures I had been attempting were rather more complex, the smug grin was rapidly replaced with a puzzled frown and the swagger became a hasty trot back to the computer. It soon emerged that the software isn't capable of doing some of the things I need, and that some of the functions on offer are less than they ought to be.
The video fibbed, but at least I'm not as incompetent as I feared!

Friday 20 January 2012

New Software Blues!

Given that my old and normally dependable word processing package has recently become reluctant to start, it was decided that we should invest in a smart new package, which shall, for the moment at least, remain nameless. To be perfectly honest I had my doubts, I don't really like change, but this morning I squared my shoulders and settled down for a quick trip through the tutorials.
It was all looking good, bordering on exciting actually, as there seemed to be a good indexing and section manoeuvring capability, which will be very useful when it comes to preparing my anthology for e-pub. I couldn't wait to get started!
Of course, I should have known better. The document won't save, the table of contents is impossible to edit and doesn't update automatically as suggested in the tutorial, and the section manoeuvring falls far short of the glitzy video's promises.
I know, I know! When 'he who fixes the computer' comes home he'll have it all working in a couple of clicks. That's the thing about new software. Only those who write the wretched stuff can get it to bloomin' well work. Worse, they normally have a ready supply of sarcastic comments or patronising looks for those lesser mortals among us who fall at the first hurdles.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Run Badger, Run, Badger, Run, Run, Run!

I hope all the badgers have read the news today. I strongly advise that they dash to the nearest gun shop and equip themselves with flack jackets and tin hats.
There's got to be a better way, hasn't there?

Wiki's SOPA Protest

I didn't need to access the vast knowledge banks of Wikipedia yesterday, as luck would have it. Normally I visit the site at least twice a day to look up some obscure piece of information that I'm sure I once possessed but seem to have mislaid along the way. Yesterday I was obviously feeling very intelligent, either that or I simply wasn't being so ambitious with my writing, which is just as well, because for 24 hours, Wiki had 'gone dark'. Picture a bewildered world, forced to resort to analogue and look up information in books!
In a widely publicised move, Wiki decided to withhold its services in protest at a US proposal to clamp down on internet piracy. I don't fully understand SOPA, the bill in question, but it has been suggested that if passed the internet, including Wiki, could be censored into silence, even though they themselves are careful not to break any laws.
So Wiki and other high profile websites went dark for 24 hours in a timely demonstration of what the politicians could be about to create. And it might have worked. Several senators have withdrawn their support for the bill and even the top man is quietly voicing misgivings. All power to the internet!
If you would like to know more about SOPA, here's a useful link - Wikipedia, of course!

Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Big Switch-off

The BBC's Stargazing Live programme last night spent some time focussing on the serious problem of light pollution. It's a subject close to my heart. For many years now I have taken a very amateur, and largely armchair based (I'm not fond of the cold!) interest in astronomy. We're fortunate enough to live in a non street-lit village, which should offer us great dark skies. Sadly there is a large conurbation to the south, whose sodium lighting robs us of the most interesting part of the night sky.
However even without that the people across the road from us light their property all night long with blindingly bright security lights. Not only does this make stargazing almost impossible but, because the lights are so bright, shaded areas are rendered an inky black because the eye has no chance to adapt to night vision. The human eye takes around fifteen minutes to adjust to dark conditions, but once it has, it's astonishing how much can actually be seen. Street lights and security lights mean that we never get the chance to use our eyes to their full astounding potential.
Try switching them off, please. Just try it. And give yourself a chance to experience the night as nature delivers it. You'd be amazed how much you'll see, from wildlife to the wonders of the universe. That's got to be worth switching the lights off for, hasn't it?

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Blackbird and Robin

I found myself considering the derisory term 'bird-brain', where the suggestion is that the recipient is of very limited intelligence. Studying the activities of the birds in our garden, especially the resident robin, I have to question the accuracy of the expression.
This morning I peered out of the kitchen window to see the robin standing on the patio, looking pointedly from me to the empty slabs and back again. I got the message. Basically he was telling me that what he was seeing there was, without question, an absence of food. Before I knew what I was doing I'd dropped my duster and polish and was scuttling out with a fresh supply of fat cake and seed and a jug of hot water to defrost the bird bath. As I chiselled away at the ice, he hopped around my feet, selecting the choicest samples from the breakfast offering, snaffling a couple of raisins before the blackbird arrived and scoffed the lot - the blackbird, though bigger and a prolific consumer of raisins and grapes, is not brave enough to partake whilst I'm still visible.
As I returned to the kitchen sink to wash my hands and thaw myself out, I looked back out at the patio and there he was, that tough little robin, one eye on me, one eye on the incoming blackbird and the last remaining raisins. I could almost swear he gave me a little nod. 
I don't know about 'bird-brain', there seems to be plenty of intelligence in that little head.

A Surprise Visitor

It's been a few days since I posted, so I apologise if you were worried that some dreadful fate had befallen me on Friday 13th. Rest assured, I made it through that infamous date unscathed. The reason for my absence is actually far more fun. That certain rather special person made a surprise train trip home in order to spend an extended weekend with us to celebrate 'he who fixes the computer' 's birthday!
She brought with her a really good computer game, 'Asylum Conspiracy', a hidden object, puzzle game. We've been playing this kind of games since she was very small, but this one ranks as one of the better in recent times. None of the recent games can hope to compete with the excellent Myst series of the 90s, but this one came close for pure entertainment.
The unexpected visit, huddling around the computer solving puzzles together instead of mindlessly watching the TV, a meal out with friends and then going on a fossil hunt on a windy hill all combined to make it a pretty amazing weekend!
The only downside was the rushed farewell at the station amidst the panic of making sure she got onto the right train. Ah well, not long 'til Easter.

Friday 13 January 2012

New Year, New Story!

The changing of the year has prompted another short story for the website. It centres around a young woman who makes a bold resolution at the New Year party, leading to a good degree of mockery among her friends. If you fancy a peek, here's the link:
Hope you enjoy it.


That's it, I'm going back to bed, closing all the curtains, not answering the door, or the phone. I've just realised, it's Friday the 13th!
Not that I believe in such silly superstitions of course! (Good luck out there today!)

Are You Sure You Packed Everything?

Whenever I check out of a hotel room I become rather obsessive about checking the drawers and cupboards to ensure I've left nothing behind. Judging from the list of items added to Travelodge's Lost Property, some people take a rather more cavalier approach to vacating their room. Among the list of items found by their staff were, bizarrely, an 18 month old child, a Santa's Grotto, a hamster and a Mr Blobby costume. Well, I can forgive the last, but forgetting your child does surely suggest a rather too relaxed attitude.
I have a mental image of a bemused baby sitting on the shelf in the Lost Property office, surrounded by hoards of teddy bears, abandoned pets and assorted jewellery. Thinking about it, he probably had the time of his life!

Thursday 12 January 2012

Free Labour

James O'Brien (LBC) was on fine form this morning as he raised the issue of the unemployed geology graduate who has objected to being told to work, unpaid, in Poundland in order to continue claiming job seekers allowance. There have been some rather lurid and frankly misleading headlines about this young lady so allow me to point out that she had been working voluntarily in a museum, something that would have helped her in her future career far more than stacking shelves at Poundland.
Like Mr O'B, I cannot understand the rationale behind this. Not least because the companies signed up to this are all highly profitable, and surely don't need unpaid workers. This scheme could very well mean they will get rid of the staff they currently pay, in order to make way for those provided for them free of charge by the tax payer. There will be even less jobs on offer, and even more people unemployed.
Someone, somewhere, didn't think this through properly.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Proper Attire for Commuting?

Staying with the train theme, but rather more cheeky than gripey, I stumbled across the strange phenomena called 'No Pants Subway Ride'. Not wishing to alarm my British readers, for whom 'pants' refers to a rather more intimate garment, this event invites commuters to undertake their journey minus their trousers. For those feeling brave, the telegraph has some pictures:
Why? Not sure! I suppose it might raise a few smiles at a gloomy time of year. On reflection, I think this probably makes me happier than ever to not be a commuter! Me sans trousers in early January is not something I would wish to inflict upon an unsuspecting world.


The government looks set to give the go-ahead today to that largest of white elephants, HS2. HS2 is the proposed high speed rail link between Birmingham and London, and is the first stage of a larger proposal to link to the north of the country.
It's going to cost us all billions, billions that we seem to be repeatedly told by the government we simply don't have (at least for anything we actually want!). It's going to destroy a swathe of the most beautiful English countryside, bulldozing through historic villages and cutting through the Chilterns, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And yet, only a tiny few will actually benefit from it. Only those in Birmingham or London will be able to use it, as the trains won't be stopping anywhere else along the route.  So all those people who are seeing their property values disintegrate and their beautiful home county land being annihilated will receive no benefit, most will receive absolutely no compensation.
But at least they have the comfort of knowing that the rail companies will make a nice fat profit from the billions of UK tax invested, and that a handful of Birmingham business types will be able to get to London a few minutes faster. Added to which, they'll have the pleasure of seeing a train-a-minute rocket past their homes at 250mph. I'm sure that will make the pain of the destruction so much easier to bear!
In my world, which regrettably remains mere fantasy, governments listen to the majority who pay the bills, not just their rich friends who only ever seem to get richer.

Monday 9 January 2012

Foot Photography

As someone who hates having her photo taken I can see the appeal of the approach taken by London photographer Tom Robinson to his holiday snaps. He took photographs of his and his girlfriend's feet in various locations and compiled them in a collection entitled 'Feet First'.
They take on a whole new meaning with the snap of their baby's scan, and then their baby's newborn feet in the subsequent shots.

Friday 6 January 2012

The Trainee Bank Robber

If you have to be caught up in a bank robbery, pray that it's being conducted by the chap who tried to hold up a branch of Halifax in Cheapside. So flustered was he that instead of handing over his swag bag he passed his gun to the bemused teller. I think he might be advised to consider a change in career!
I can just imagine the sound of incredulous laughter as the poor chap fled up the road.

Thursday 5 January 2012

On A Lighter Note

Picture the staff at London Zoo doing their annual stock take! I don't suppose elephants present too much of an issue, unless of course they happen to be charging at you en-mass when, I would expect, counting would be the last thing on your mind. But a whole gaggle of curious penguins, or insects, fish, meerkats, monkeys, I imagine offer up a rather more interesting challenge.
I had a hard enough time counting out the sausage rolls at Christmas, and they generally stay fairly still!

Wednesday 4 January 2012

New Year's Resolution

There are very few inspiring or funny news stories out there today. Must be the January blues, I suppose. For my part, I'm having a good day. I've stripped the house of most of the Christmas decorations, it's looking a little shocked now but it'll get over it, but more importantly, I've had a good writing day. That's especially gratifying as it's the third good writing day this week!
So, in light of the fact that I seem to have remembered how to tell a story at last, I shall start my new year with fresh resolve. My plan for the year begins with finishing my current story 'The Last Guardian' which will be my submission for the next book in Café Three-Zero's Tales from the Café series. Then I shall start designing a cover for Billy of Boldre Wood, the first in the children's adventure trilogy. Once I have a cover, I shall start preparing the book for marketing on Kindle.
Lucky Dip, my latest novel, is currently being looked at by a couple of agents. If they decide they aren't interested I shall probably abandon the traditional route with that too, and try it out on the Kindle market. I also need to write more short stories for my own anthology, to be released on Kindle, and I need to finish the third book of the Boldre Wood Trilogy.
I'm exhausted already! When's the next holiday?

Tuesday 3 January 2012

The Magnificent Sherlock Holmes

I missed the first series of the BBC's latest adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. I was being stubborn. I love the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, as written by Conan Doyle, in book form, old fashioned as I am. I treasure my copy of the memoirs and have read it from cover to cover several times. I tend to get snippy with modern interpretations, seeing them as error riddled and disrespectful. So it was with a good deal of trepidation that I decided to give 'Sherlock' a go on Sunday.
It was superb. Benedict Cumberbatch captures every nuance of Holmes and delivers him with utter conviction in this modern interpretation of the stories. This first episode was loosely based on 'A Scandal in Bohemia' and proved a worthy adaptation of the story that saw Holmes bested by 'the woman', the only woman who ever won his respect.
If you'd like to know more, the BBC has a page dedicated to the series:
I'm glad I overcame my prejudice. Still, think I'd better avoid the Hollywood attempts, they might test my patience a little too far!