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Tuesday 31 July 2012

News Halted for the Olympics!

There's so much news out there at the moment - and it's all Olympics! I'm pretty interested in the games, but I have to say there are times when I find myself screaming when regular news bulletins turn out to be yet another Olympic round-up. Is nothing else happening in the world?
Well actually, yes! I did find one story on the Telegraph's site involving three bears stuck in a bin, a rather agitated mother bear, and an enterprising couple with a truck and a ladder:
The three bears
As much as I'm enjoying watching all the lesser-covered sports on TV, in many ways I'll be glad to see normal service resume!

Thursday 26 July 2012

And Here's Another Epic Journey

A Chinese farmer, moved by the Olympic Games of 2008, decided to travel to the next games, here in London by the only means available to him: his rickshaw. His journey has taken him through 16 countries, floods, heatwaves, snow, war, mountains, and roughly 60,000km.
Arriving in London on the 9th July, Chen Guanming was directed to Soho's China town, where despite receiving offers accommodation, he still sleeps in his rickshaw. His one wish is to take part in the opening ceremony.
Please, please, Locog, Seb Coe, Boris Johnson, thumb your noses at the wretched sponsors for once and find him a slot at the games - cycling all the way here has to be an Olympic achievement, surely? It would be fantastic to see him cycling his rickshaw into the stadium on the opening night.
Chen Guanming's Cycle Trip

Update: the beeb has now added a video

Wednesday 25 July 2012

On the Positive Side ...

Gosh, it's a gloomy news day! Britain is now officially in the longest double dip recession for more than fifty years, a landslide at a holiday beach has ended in tragedy, London's traffic system has ground to a halt, a criminal gang in Australia has been sending out millions of death threat texts demanding money, and it's still costing dairy farmers more money to produce milk than they are paid.
Looking desperately for the positive, the sun's still shining, the Olympics are due to start, and the materials for our new shed have finally arrived, filling the garden with the wonderful smell of freshly sawn timber - I may attempt to bottle the smell for later use.
Oh, and our visiting hedgehog is still frequenting the garden, although waiting for him is a frustrating experience: he seems to eat a little, then nods off in the shrubbery for a while, then re-emerges to eat a little more, before nodding off in the shrubbery again, then he snuffles around a bit more, then squeezes through to our neighbour's garden via the slightly rotten fence in the corner. He's very sweet though and it's great to know our tiny garden has provided him with a safe place.
So George Osborne, do your worst (as if you haven't already), whatever cuts and additional taxes you throw at us, I'll keep looking for the positive side.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Epic Journeys

We used to own a motorhome. She (and she was a she, built on a Peugeot Boxer, whose engine moo-ed when it cooled down after a long journey) was part of the family. She carried us on many adventures, touring various parts of the UK, as well as the Netherlands and Germany. They were some of the happiest times of my life, and I rue the day we were tempted by a big flash new van, taking out a ridiculous loan that completely destroyed the magic. We sold it after a year and left the world of motorhoming. I hope one day to return to it, finding another motorhome to love, but it will be an old one, not some over-teched, over-engineered, palace on wheels. I want another one like our first old girl - one with soul!
She might have been a little bit tired, but she did have a comfy bed, a cooker, a shower. Not like the touring vehicle of choice for one German couple whose story is told on the BBC website today. They set out in 1989 on what was supposed to be an 18 month tour, but never went home. Gunther Holtorf is still touring the world in his dependable old Mercedes, having promised to continue his journey when his wife passed away.
The story is told in a five minute video, five minutes well worth setting aside in my opinion!
Gunther's Epic Journey
It certainly got me thinking: would I ever be brave enough to do even a fraction of that? how do you fund such a lifestyle? how could they manage without a proper bed for all those years? how would a Peugeot Boxer fare on some of those roads? how do you sort out visas? how many languages can I learn at the local evening college?
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it reinforces the idea that we have far more stuff than we need. The Holtorf's could fit their lives into one car!

Monday 23 July 2012

Gremlins in the Works

I don't know how it happened, I obviously did something very foolish, but I have no idea what. I had been working on my story for the latest Café ThreeZero collection back in June. I posted it to the forum for my colleagues to read and assess, then set about making changes following their feedback. So far so good. With that in mind, when I pulled up the story today for one final check before submission, I was expecting to find little to do.
Ha! Some hope! I've lost all the revisions I made! I know I've brought up the right document, because I opened the 'last modified' version, but none of my changes were visible. Maybe I dreamed I had made the changes. I suppose there's a remote possibility that I forgot to save them. Or maybe I had a bizarre mental blockage and put it all back the way it was before.
Personally I think it's far more likely those pesky computer gremlins mischievously undid all my corrections when I wasn't looking - I swear they've done it before, whatever he who fixes the computer says!

The Latest Olympic Athlete

As a celebration of the Olympics and presumably all things 'London', Czech sculptor David Cerny has created a pretty special art installation with a uniquely London inspiration. He has taken a London bus (although apparently it's not actually a Routemaster, but we'll overlook that!) and by adding some well muscled arms, a rather curvaceous rear end and some serious hydraulics, has turned it into a bus that can do press-ups. It's probably the most athletic 'London' bus in existence:
Olympic Bus
Although thinking back, I have been on a couple of bus trips where the driver seemed to be trying to get his vehicle to do hurdles.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Wiggins Wins!

He did it! Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France! And Mark Cavendish got the final stage victory! And Chris Froome came second overall!
Wiggins had it all sewn up after Saturday's time trial, which he charged through with the unstoppability of an express train, showing any remaining doubters precisely why he was chosen to be Sky Team's leader.
Wiggins Wins
Congratulations Sideburns!

Friday 20 July 2012

And Another Good Sport

Imagine the scene, you've gone out for the day to enjoy the golf tournament, all's going well, the competition is hotting up. Then, without warning, you're struck on the head, everything goes dark, your legs buckle beneath you, and golf is suddenly the last thing on your mind. You come around to see a first aider heading towards you with a large bandage and a determined look in his eye, and the information that you were struck by a golf ball belted across the fairway by none other than Rory McIlroy. Not only that, but the whole thing was captured on camera.
That's precisely what happened to one young golfing fan at the Open Championship yesterday. The offending golfer made up for it though, by giving him a signed apology - on a golf glove! It's almost worth being struck on the head for a souvenir like that.
Rory's Stray Shot

Thursday 19 July 2012

Before I Go ...

I gather the need to tell loved ones all the things we've neglected to say over the years takes on a whole new significance when our time draws towards its end.
The Daily Mail carried a story this week of a man who decided to express himself by writing his own obituary. He told of his love for his wife, his gratitude to his friends, all the usual. But he also included the confession that he had stolen a safe in 1971, and was not actually a PhD, having received his diploma as a result of an administrative error!
It was carefully constructed to give his loved ones one last laugh, as well as letting them know how much they mattered. It was probably the kindest gift he could have left:
Val Patterson's Obituary
Hm, I think I can feel a writing challenge coming on!

Wednesday 18 July 2012

The Power of a Good Book

It's hardly startling news that reading is a powerful force for good. After all, a well written book encourages you to think about things differently, to consider topics from another perspective, to ask 'what if?'.
The Brazilian prison service is offering a great incentive for its inmates to turn to reading. They are offering to reduce prison sentences for every book a convict reads, cutting four days from their stretch for each one, up to a maximum of twelve books.
Brazil Prison Reading Programme
I think it could be a great idea, as long as the likes of 'The Great Escape', 'Birdman of Alcatraz' or 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' don't feature on the reading list!

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Boldre Wood Marketing

A writer friend of mine suggested that I create a Facebook page in the name of one of the characters from Boldre Wood in order to create more awareness of the trilogy. It's a great idea, and one I'm keen to act upon, but I'm struggling to figure out how to go about it. Firstly I need to create pictures of my imaginary world, not just as sketches and doodles in my journals, but actual, proper, professional digital images. It's quite an ask!
I will also need to have a well formed idea of the character and his place in the story. As such, I think I shall probably use Gerald Hippingdale, Hippo, as he is a key player in Billy's life, allowing him certain insights into his story, though I'm going to have to give some thought to viewing the story from his perspective. I shall also have to be careful not to reveal too much!
Hopefully this will be a productive route to my target audience. I shall keep you updated on my progress with the artwork, just don't expect anything too quickly! Oh, and any helpful ideas on creating an exciting Facebook page would be very gratefully received!

Monday 16 July 2012

Fair Play from Bradley Wiggins

He who fixes the computer always enjoys this time of year, because he has full permission to watch as much cycle racing as he likes in the form of the Tour de France - he has a little nosey at some of the other races, but he follows the TdF from start to finish.
Yesterday's stage brought with it a good deal of excitement and controversy when a saboteur threw carpet tacks onto the road in front of the pelaton. Needless to say, there were a lot of punctures, in both bicycles and support vehicles, as well as a broken collar bone for one of the riders. It was a pretty serious mess, but it could have been even worse.
It also meant that racing for the stage was effectively over, as some of the race leaders were among the worst affected, most notably Cadel Evans. Yellow jersey wearer (race leader) Bradley Wiggins, seeing the chaos ensuing and that Evans was being unfairly impeded, slowed the pelaton to allow everyone to regroup, earning himself much praise for good sportsmanship. He insisted later that he had simply done the right thing and would hope that others would do the same for him. There must have been a part of him that wanted to take advantage of the situation to extend his lead over Evans, but by his actions he demonstrated that if he's going to win, he wants to do so fairly.
Bradley Wiggins Story
I wonder about the mind of the culprit - what was his motivation, what was he trying to achieve, and did he not consider the consequences of his actions? In the same incident, two completely opposite characters were revealed - that of the culprit, who mindlessly endangered the cyclists, and that of Wiggins, who put aside competition for the sake of fair play. See, even a cycle race can offer inspiration for the writer!
Good luck to Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome!

eBook Recommendation

I find picking my way through ebook stores to be a time-consuming and frustrating business. With so many books to choose from it's tricky to pick out a good one, not least because I never feel that I'm being shown all that's on offer.
Although my searches of the estores are frequently fruitless, I have found the occasional gem, such as the book I'm currently reading, 'Lillian's Story, One Woman's Journey Through the 20th Century' by Sally Patricia Gardner. Even though I'm only two thirds through I can tell it's one I shall want to keep and return to. It's written with such authority and such depth of emotion that, despite being a novel, it reads like a genuine memoir.
The idea behind the novel is that Lillian was born at the very start of the century, dying just short of her one hundredth birthday, and has therefore seen all the key moments of the century: wars, coronations, scientific breakthroughs, and immense social change. Her 'memoir' allows the reader to see it all through the eyes of a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, allowing us to see the impact world events had upon an ordinary family, sharing with us the grief, the joys and the horrors they brought with them. It puts a whole new spin on history.
If you'd like to take a look, here's a link to the book on Kindle:
Lillians Story
Incidentally, if you've found a similar gem, please feel free to share it by commenting on this post. I, for one, would be very grateful for any recommendations.

Friday 13 July 2012

Friday's Treat

That certain rather special someone returned home yesterday, complete with several bags of laundry, rock samples and a large box of Krispie Kreme doughnuts - bang goes the diet. She took some time enjoying the luxury of hot water, sofas, carpet etc. then remembered television. As she flicked through the channels in a dizzying celebration of her return to civilisation she asked me if I remembered a short animation featuring an old man playing chess against himself. I did, but only vaguely. After several minutes of searching the dusty corners of my memory I gave up and turned to Google. There it was, the clip that appeared as a bonus on Toy Story2: Geri's Game. Go on, treat yourselves, it's Friday:
Geri's Game

Thursday 12 July 2012

Lonely in the Crowd

Being at home writing all day is great on the one hand, I'm doing something I love, but on the other hand it can be a pretty lonely existence. There are occasions when I feel as though the world has somehow moved away without me - it's all happening out there, but I'm no longer a part of it. Sometimes I find myself yearning for conversation.
And it seems I'm not alone. There are a lot of people out there who struggle with loneliness. It's a bizarre thought in a world so crowded, but modern living doesn't always lend itself to socialising.
One man from New York who was feeling pretty isolated after a relationship breakdown decided to take drastic action; he posted fliers inviting people to call his number, just for a chat. And people did call, nice people, who just wanted to chat, or to try to cheer him up, or to share their problems.
The Man Who Gave the World His Number
It's good to be reminded that there's still a world out there, and that most people feel the same way.

Dream Job

You see the advert for that dreamiest of dream jobs, you polish up your C.V. and send it off, fingers crossed. And then, because miracles do sometimes happen, you're invited to an interview and do so well you're offered the job. And that job? Chocolate taster. Yes, seriously, the job you dreamed of as a child.
Angus Kennedy must have thought all his Christmasses and birthdays had come at once when he took the job, being paid £30,000 a year for munching his way through chocolate, then writing articles about it for a magazine.
Sadly he has been forced to quit on medical advice; all that chocolate has given him an extra 2 stones in weight and sent his cholesterol dangerously high. There's always a catch, isn't there!
Chocolate Taster Story

Wednesday 11 July 2012

New Story!

I've had the dubious pleasure of waiting in for several parcels recently. Our doorbell can only easily be heard in the front half of the house, which is awkward because I work in the back half. So I've had a few days of working in total silence, nervously dashing through to the front at the slightest sound from outside. It has, however, prompted a quick story for the website:
The Delivery
I'm currently working on a story inspired by religious cults. It's turning out to be quite long and, perhaps unsurprisingly, pretty dark. Hopefully it won't be too sinister for the second anthology, but I'll decide once it's finished. I'll keep you informed on its progress.
And the latest Billy Update: I'm into the final read-throughs of Billy and The North Oakian Alliance, and should hopefully have a release date very soon.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

First They Came

I hope you'll allow me a political post, but something is happening in Britain today that worries me terribly. Since the coalition came to power they have lurched from group to group, aiming to cut pay, cut benefits, cut pensions. Their policy for selling these cuts to the public has been the classic divide and rule 'they're getting something that you're not'. So far they have targeted the disabled, the public sector workers, the students, and the welfare claimants. Today's target is pensioners. In response to this trend, James O'Brien (LBC radio) draws his listeners' attention to the speech by the German pastor Martin Neimöller, 'First They Came'. I should point out that this speech was written to account for the inactivity of the German people during the rise of Nazism. It's not without a certain relevance today, however:

FIrst they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

When you're not in the group being targeted by the government it's easy to nod your approval of the cuts. After all, the country needs to save money. But how long will it be before they find a way to target you? And how curious it is that while the richest have been given tax cuts, the most vulnerable have been given benefit cuts.
Political rant over, stepping down from the soap-box. Normal service shall now resume.

Fun Jobs Hitting the News

My daily trawl through the news sites turned up a few intriguing stories today. The first that really caught my eye was an article about a truly unique research ship, the U.S. Navy's Floating Instrument Platform, FLIP. This ship is designed to sail conventionally to its research site, where it then rotates through 90 degrees to 'stand' vertically in the water. I'm explaining it terribly, but if you take a look at the pictures on the Daily Mail's site, you'll see what I mean. There is a video at the bottom too. It's quite long, but worth taking a look if you have time:
Daily Mail's FLIP ship article
And on the subject of people having altogether too much fun at work, the Mail is also running an article about rally driver Ken Block's latest promotional video. They have some pretty amazing photos of him putting his car through some moves on the streets of San Francisco. If you can brave the flickery cinematography at the start of the video you'll be rewarded with footage of some pretty slick driving. Prepare to wince at some of the landings, and try not to think about the cost of tyres:
Daily Mail Rally Driver article

Monday 9 July 2012

Demolition Work

Work has begun. The first tentative steps have been taken. The dismantling of the worn out shed clinging to the side of the house has started. Of course, anyone listening to the work being undertaken might have been forgiven for thinking that some sort of vicious assault were taking place. I apologise now to anyone disturbed by the screaming. It was all the fault of the spiders.
I knew they were there, the gnarly cord-like webs gave them away, but they showed a skill for sneakiness that surpassed my worst nightmares, creeping up on me at the most unexpected of moments. He who fixes the computer made a great show of finding my discomfort amusing, but in truth he fared little better judging by the muttering and occasional rather frantic retreat.
Still, the bulk of the shed has gone. The spiders, woodlice and rotten old wood have found a new home at the recycling centre where they can scare a far greater number of people, and the groundwork for our new masterpiece can begin.
I just hope nobody tells the creepy crawlies.

Oxfam Wins the Bet

Well, Roger Federer did it, he won the men's Wimbledon final, he is the Wimbledon champion for the seventh time, earning him his seventeenth Grand Slam. Which means Oxfam will be collecting winnings of £101,840 thanks to the bet bequeathed to the charity by Nick Newlife.
He's a deserving champion, magnanimous and gentlemanly, as well as being pretty nifty on a tennis court, but it would have been fantastic to have seen Andy Murray win. Congratulations to Federer and Oxfam, and commiserations to Murray - go for gold in the Olympics instead!

Friday 6 July 2012

Torch Relay

I have to confess to having initially been less than enthusiastic about the Olympics. I rapidly grew weary of Seb Coe and his fellow Olympians endlessly holding press conferences about how marvellous it was all going to be. I was annoyed by the debacle over the selling of the tickets, and my empathy muscles have been cramping for all those Londoners whose lives are going to be made almost impossible by road closures and 'Olympic Lanes'. However, when the torch relay visited our local town, something clicked. It was such an emotional occasion that it took me quite by surprise. I'm so glad I went along to see it.
Watching the relay coverage, we've speculated about the security team in the grey uniforms running alongside the torch. We've mused about their obvious fitness, given the many miles they have to run each day, and we've admired their deftness of touch at maintaining security of the torch without detracting from the spectacle.
According to an article on the BBC website, they were recruited from the Metropolitan police and were put through a punishing training programme in order to prepare them for rigours of their assignment:
The BBC has also provided a picture gallery, showing the security team at work:
So, now we know. I have to admit to being rather envious. It must be quite special to be involved in something like that.

Thursday 5 July 2012

And Today's Curious Story ...

Well, after exposing you to the gloomy news of the latest celebrity divorce and its ties to cult life, I thought I should probably offer up something that might put a smile on your faces, albeit one that comes with a serious underlying message.
Had you been in Charing Cross yesterday you would have seen 108 pandas, or rather, 108 people dressed up as pandas. This wasn't a bizarre stag-do gone wrong but rather a publicity stunt to raise awareness of the plight of the endangered species.
As serious an issue as it is, I can't help but love the photographs on the Daily Mail's website. I particularly like the panda on the escalator, paws crossed, head down as he/ she contemplates the day ahead. All that was missing for the full twee effect was a briefcase:
dailymail panda story
Perhaps the funniest photos are of the sombre commuters doing their sterling best to ignore them. I suppose you get used to seeing such things if you live or work in London.

Inspiring Stories

In my daily search for inspiration I trawl the news websites, hunting down those human interest or, frankly, bizarre stories that can sometimes be found lurking amidst the more typical articles about bankers and public sector workers. Quite often I happen across a funny item which I end up sharing here, not because they especially inspire me but rather because I'm so glad to find a story that doesn't threaten to send my blood pressure through the roof. I've learned a fair bit about the business of journalism since I started doing this. Mostly what I've learned is that the wise one was right all those years ago when he pointed out to a teenage Kay, as she dreamed of a career on Fleet Street, that she lacked the elbows for the job.
Anyway, the story I'm following with some interest at the moment is the breakdown of the marriage between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I apologise now if that sounds horribly crass. The breakdown of a marriage is of course tragic, especially when young children are involved, but this one is so fascinating because of Tom Cruise's devotion to the cult religion Scientology.
As journalists across the globe probe the lives of this couple, ever more curious and alarming information is appearing about this secretive organisation. Some of it is clearly sensationalised, but the tales of abuse and imprisonment for disobedience, as well as their reputation for the stifling control they exert over every aspect of their followers' lives, has definitely set my creative cogs spinning.
The question is, can any work of fiction possibly more be fascinating than the truth in this case? I'm not sure, but I'm certainly going to explore it in my journal over the coming days. This might well prompt that last story for the second QT Anthology.
I shall keep you informed of my progress - if there is any.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Billy on Smashwords

Billy of Boldre Wood, Book One of the Boldre Wood Trilogy, is now also available on Smashwords.
Work continues on the preparations of Book Two, Billy and the North Oakian Alliance, and hopefully we'll be ready for launch very shortly.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Betting on Federer

Roger Federer has a great many fans who will be urging him to victory at Wimbledon this week, but for some there are rather more pressing reasons to wish him success. A man who placed a bet that Federer would win seven Wimbledon titles by 2019 died before seeing whether or not his gamble would pay off. However, he bequeathed the betting slip to Oxfam in his will, meaning the charity will be eligible for any subsequent payout.
For the full story, see the BBC website:
Good luck Federer, and Oxfam!

'Your order is being processed'

We attempted to place an order on a website yesterday evening, carefully entering all our details, checking them back to ensure accuracy, then hitting the magic 'Confirm Order' button. Nothing happened. Well that's not strictly true. There was an annoying little scroll wheel whizzing round and round in an apparently endless cycle next to the misleading missive 'Please wait, we are processing your order'. It continued thus for about fifteen minutes until he who fixes the computer was forced to admit defeat.
It's always tricky when this happens, because you can never be quite sure what's happening at the other end. Has the order gone through but failed to confirm at our end? Do we try again and end up placing the order twice? We settled instead for a quick email to the company asking them if the order had gone through. This morning, very promptly, they replied to say they had no record of the order and would we mind trying again. So I did. I have to report that the little scroll wheel was back on fine form again this morning, fiercely guarding its website against my best endeavours to make a purchase.
So, I phoned the company. 'What browser are you using?' asked the lady at the other end. 'It shouldn't make any difference,' said I. 'Oh, it does,' said she, rather condescendingly. 'No, it shouldn't,' I insisted. 'Well,' said she, 'we find that the only time people have trouble placing orders is when they're using Mac.'
At this point I despaired of her shop, her webdesigners, the internet and the world as a whole. How can any online retailer possibly hope to survive if they have set up their shop in such a way as to exclude an estimated 10% of their potential market? And that percentage is increasing, as more and more people discover the advantages of Mac over Windows.
I politely declined her offer to take my details over the phone. If she can't set her website up properly she doesn't deserve my business. I did a rather more in depth search and found the item I wanted, cheaper, on Ebay. My platform, browser, software and more over, my money, is good there!

Incidentally, a quick check on the stats for this blog reveal that audience figures from Mac users stand at 39%, Windows 54%, and Linux 5%. Mac users have a very significant web presence. Ignore them at your peril!

Monday 2 July 2012

Sheds with a Difference

On the growing list of jobs on the 'To-do-List' at the moment lurks the promise of a new shed to replace the crumbling relic currently clinging shame-facedly to the side of the house. Plans are in place, with help from the wise one, and a list of components has been drafted. All that remains is the doing ... or maybe not. Maybe we ought to slow down, reconsider, think a little more creatively. Truly, our plans look decidedly staid and sober compared to some of the high ranking entries in this years Shed of the Year competition.
For a quick glance at the most popular, see the Telegraph's gallery:
If you want to see more, the full bewildering array of entries is available here:
I'd like a pub shed (this is a dry village), a quaint little summer house (along with a summer please), definitely a tree house (always wanted a tree house!) but certainly not a tardis, partly because there seem to be far too many of them and partly because when I exit my shed I'd like to be sure I was stepping back into the same garden I left.
Now, where did I leave that drawing board?