Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 - The Year In Review

Time...

2013 -

Illness diagnosed
Wilson disappointed
Bowie impressed
Despair arrived
Amplifier shocked
Acrimony incurred
Hopkins monster
Ade provided
Salvation descended
Cold remained
Will excelled
Summer sparkled
Borderline Press
Followed by
Mushroom abundance
566 Frames
Convention season
Zombre book
Sand brilliance
Corporate Leeds
New friends

2014 -

Hope horizons

... time, never enough of it any more.

May 2014 be better than 2013. 

Once upon a time I knew a man called Mr Chan. He said, "I don't want life to be better, I just want it to be fairer."


Saturday, November 09, 2013

Album Review 4 of 2013

Only four? Blimey...

Sand


I've been blessed. 2013 has been a veritable cornucopia of musical brilliance; everything from the sublime David Bowie album to the very unsubtle Amplifier, something or someone has come along to fill this year with delights, and to think it started so badly...

2013 began with me really looking forward to the new Steven Wilson album and being so unbelievably underwhelmed by what, in my humbled opinion, turned out to be some shite jazz rock homage to King Crimson done really badly, I thought the year was unlikely to get any better. I mean if I get so disappointed by the god-like Steven Wilson, what hope have Amplifier got, especially after that meh last album? And what's that? There's a new David Bowie album coming out? Oh, for the love of God, the universe and everything else...

There have been about a dozen quite stunning albums this year - albums to leave you wondering how music like this has never been done before - each of them vying for potential album of the year; the position that Steven Wilson might have been a shoo-in for had it not been for his album's utter awfulness. Looking across all the CDs I've bought - actually purchased with hard cash - which usually are the contenders for album of the year, it was still pretty much a fight between Bowie and Amplifier. If you'd have said four weeks ago that Sam Healy would become odds on favourite to win that personal honour, I'd have said, "Sam Healy? Where do I know that name from? He's in a band I like, I'm sure of it?"

I believe my album of 2012 was the almost perfect collection of ditties called Fog Electric by that Scottish band with the catchy name - North Atlantic Oscillation. If you'd prodded me, I would have remembered that's where I've heard the name before. He wrote Mirador possibly the most beautiful song of the 21st century so far.

Sand (by Sand) is quite ... breathtaking. It is also mind-numbingly beautiful. Fantastically inventive and some wondrous thing that can remind you of everything ever. If I told you there was hints of Elbow, Simon & Garfunkle, Genesis, David Holmes, Sugar, Phil Spector, Adam and the Ants, Bob Dylan, the Moody Blues, Fatboy Slim and so many more I just can't put my finger on; yet complimenting all the influences is this utter perfection of an individual's record, would you be impressed? I think it is only spoiled by its 43 minute duration; it needs to be a couple of hours longer. Yet for all of the 10 stunning songs on this album and my desire for it to be never ending, the best song is less than a minute and a half and has the longest title.

Sam Healy is a bit of a sea man. NAO's albums are called Grappling Hooks and Fog Electric - both have songs about the sea and sailors and things nautical and you can see his fascination with the sea sneaking through in this; even the title/band name - Sand - is something you associate with the coast and frankly he could have a fascination with it for as long as he likes if he continues to produce music like this.

Let's also get one thing straight - there is prog in this album, a fair bit of it; there's also theatrical pomp rock and a fair bit of electronic wizardry, but if I had to put a label on it, I'd probably call it 'Almost Pop' because just about every song on it has you singing along to bits of it; tapping your foot to some weirdly 1970s mellotron or thinking someone unleashed Brian Eno on the Brady Bunch.

That's the other thing about this album - bonkers schizophrenic; it doesn't know where it is from one moment to the next, except Sam... Sam knows exactly where it is and where its going and that is why it works so well. Musical genius? I wouldn't say he wasn't.

This is the album I began this year expecting; this is the album Steven Wilson wishes he could make. This could be the album of the decade so far, because I can't think of another album I've reviewed in recent times that has got

10/10

Friday, November 08, 2013

One Man's Pain

It might be deemed as slightly unprofessional for me to complain about things that relate to my new job - you know, the publishing business thing that has prevented me from regaling you with the stress of being me on a twice weekly (sometimes thrice) basis. You know, my employer might not like it (that'd be me then) and it might be viewed as a little defeating.

So let's talk about my mate Bill Wall.

Bill thinks he might be getting too old to be running a fledgling business in 2013, because it is seriously fucking up his life. Not only is he surrounded by a level of incompetence that belies belief; he's of the opinion that possibly he's dead and this is just some kind of hell. Or perhaps he's in a virtual world and he's playing 'Have A Shit Life' from the makers of Sim City, in 2563.

Bill signed up for a recognised mail company - not one that recently floated away - took his first consignment of parcels down to their depot and two weeks later received a bill that almost made him cack himself. An example, because it is so ludicrous it's worth repeating - a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland cost £55 - (I will cut and paste that several times, be warned) The royal postal delivery service would have charged Bill £4.95 and he thought it would be a good idea to avoid them.

The same company who believe that a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland [should] cost £55 also gave Bill an account and got him to sign a direct debit. They also installed software onto his computer that has caused a 'runtime error 217' on it and he now believes his network no longer works and it might even have put a Trojan in his system.

The good news is Bill has been told that his first bill for just shy of £300 for 13 parcels will be drastically reduced, by about £240; however, no one there has assured him they can fix his computer and he currently has no way of using their software or to print labels; so he's having to use the more expensive royal version.

Then Bill had problems with taking money from people face-to-face. He needed some way that people could pay him with a credit or debit card, to increase his earning potential. So his slightly understaffed bank went off and sorted it out for him - he says, "trust me, it's a damned sight more complicated than that, but we haven't got all year to tell this story," and who are we to argue. His bank set up this payment facility - Bill needed specific equipment for this facility to work - he needed a specific mobile phone and he'd just got himself tied into a new contract with a state of the art Sony phone, which wasn't compatible with the payment facility.

Suddenly Bill had one of those small portable card reader jobbies and an account with the company who processes all the transactions and absolutely no way of setting it up or using it. The bank that did all of this for him have kind of crawled under a stone.

Blimey Bill, that's been tough luck! And don't forget: a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland cost 55 fucking quid!!!

Except that wasn't the end of it. The same company that have the card reader gadget also set up an e-commerce system on his website, because that's going to be Bill's primary revenue source and you need something right and proper to put trust in customers'. Bill was singing the praises of this conglomerate of banks and finance companies about how much cheaper than other less reputable companies they were and yet it was a bit like indirect taxation - all that extra tax you pay isn't taken out of your wage packet so it doesn't really count. Bill is being charged a whacking great chunk of his potential profit just to have the service. It costs him nearly £300 to set it up; then £50 a month and 2% of his transaction fees and while he isn't suggesting he's been mis-sold, he is suggesting that some of the charges were possibly glossed over.

Bill tried to explain to these new and unexpected keepers of his soul that he was just starting out and the charges levelled at a new business seemed almost punitive. 

Oh pray tell, how many ways are there to say ... tough shit?

And then Bill got what is called in posh circles as 'trots extremus' and considered just going and getting a job, once he got off the loo.

In case you forget: sending a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland will cost £55 if you're an idiot or they just saw you coming.

Poor old Bill. I'd like to sympathise with him, but I've had it even worse and I've also had the shits...

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Spoiler Warning

(The following review is mostly ambiguous, but it does kind of give the entire thing away, so if you haven't seen this TV series DON'T read this, even if this is essentially the reason why you should watch the TV series.)

Your next box set: Breaking Bad

"Convince yourself, you are someone else..." Is a line from a song, by Swedish band Junip, which was used to preview the finale of this TV series. In a way that is entirely what Breaking Bad is about - convincing yourself you are someone different.

We came to this series very late. In fact, we started to watch it just as it was entering the end game in real time. Real time... yeah, I think that was one of the things that surprised me so much about this TV series; at some point in season 5 the main cast are sitting round the pool in Walter White's modest Albuquerque home and they are talking about the last 12 months - the entire life of the series we were watching. Was it really just 12 months in the lives of these 5 people?

This is the story of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who has let the world walk over him; has lost a potential fortune and is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He is married to a selfish woman, has a son with cerebral palsy and a baby daughter on the way and he's just turned 50. This is bad enough, but through a series of events he loses just about everything he had left, except his family. It is when he has nothing left that he comes up with this idea that he could make crystal meth - a highly addictive drug that is common in the USA but has not really made the inroads in the UK - all he needs is the right people to help him.

Enter Jesse Pinkman - a feckless waste of space ex-student of Walter's who really is just a complete and utter dick, but through Jesse the next 12 months unfolds in some of the most jaw-dropping TV moments you will ever witness!

But... it's about a chemistry teacher and a wanker, how can it be so good?

I think that's why it took us so long to watch it and why there are so many people out there professing to have never seen it: the premise, on paper, looks a bit thin. It's the only thing that is.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul - the protagonists - are chalk and cheese, yet soon you see something developing between them - a chemistry, if you will. Plus the meth they cook is so good everyone wants a piece of the action, which links the two of them together even more. As the short first series segues into series two, we are introduced to the 'real' supporting cast - not Walt's family, but the likes of 'the lawyer', 'the fixer' and the 'villain' - three utterly crucial elements for making this TV series as good as it was.

Saul Goodman - a lawyer (just), who has his fingers in more pies than you could imagine. Mike - a hitman and problem solver who works for Saul, but really works for... Gus Fring, the head of massively successful chicken restaurant chain who is also the largest drug baron in the southern United States. Three characters who would help turn this into quite possibly one of the most spectacular TV shows ever made.

By the end of series two you are still rooting for Walt; he's still the 'hero', but from season three on, Walt really becomes the chemical mastermind persona he has invented for himself - his is Heisenberg and you start to see the flicker of megalomania behind those dark, bespectacled, eyes.

To say that carnage rules the next couple of series is a slight overstatement, but it's never too far from the surface. People get killed that you just wouldn't expect to die and things are never predictable. You think you can guess what is going to happen next and its the last thing that does happen! This is what made this series so enjoyable, you kind of had to give up second guessing it because anything you thought might happen wasn't a patch on what they actually opted for.

Then, at the end of series four, you wonder what the hell a fifth season could have in it. It ends; just about every loose bit is tied up in that explosive perfect season finale. When the final series begins it acts almost like an epilogue - the loose ends of the loose ends seem to get tied up ... But that was the TV show's charm, the ability to lead you down a path only to be rugby tackled from the side. Series five proved that not all of the loose ends were tied up; in fact the ones left were a lot more unpredictable than Gus Fring. As the final series progressed, things just got grimmer to the point where you knew, deep down, there wasn't going to be any form of happy ending...

I liked the analogy that for the entire series Walter thought he was in charge, but in reality he was never 'in charge'. He was always controlled by something - whether it was Fring or his own love of being a super villain. How he took control in the series' final episode and did everything the way he wanted it done was a fitting tribute.  A good friend of mine said he felt the finale was rushed (it was 75 minutes long) and I can see that, but I can also see that it was necessary. The time frame of the series: 12 months pass between series one episode one and series five episode seven, but a further 12 months pass from that point by the swimming pool and the bloody riot at the very end, in fact, all the finale action largely takes place on Walt's 52nd birthday.

In the end most people got what they deserved; like real life some things were fairer than others. I'd spent three seasons hoping that Skyler White would die in the most horrible of ways and, remarkably, that Hank, the consummate professional cop would get his man, because it was what he deserved. Or that Jesse would actually live happily ever after with that cute girl and her son; but nothing I 'wanted' happened yet it was still one of the most mind-blowing TV shows ever and like The Sopranos its kind will probably never be repeated.

I watched the finale last night, after managing to avoid most spoilers (no thanks to Malcolm Alsop for almost killing my enjoyment by using his Facebook status to tell the world what had happened) and worked it out that we started to watch the series midway through August (so about 8 weeks in total to watch 60 episodes) and yet I feel as though a huge hole has been excavated in me, one that I don't see any other TV show filling at the moment.

People will tell you that you really should have watched it. Trust them; these people are right. This is essential television; it is culturally superb; it is what television was created for, to entertain, to shock, to get a reaction. Vince Gilligan cut his teeth on The X Files but will be catapulted into the same arena as Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams on the strength of this show. Bryan Cranston is already a huge star and I expect a bright future for Aaron Paul, whose character, at the end, got what he deserved.

So did we.

Rating: 10/10

Addendum: This is the music used to preview the finale: http://youtu.be/W9V-Hh0uTaI it is possibly the loveliest song I have heard all year and the words... Jesus, you would have thought they had been written specifically for the final episode...


Thursday, October 03, 2013

1000 Yard Stare

Hello.

Remember me? I used to be prolific, now I'm just tired.

I am of the opinion that for someone who thought that time was speeding up (without humanity being perceptively aware), by immersing myself in doing so much has just exacerbated the situation and weeks seem to be whizzing past at a rate of knots. The thing is, if this is the case, the winter will zoom in and out, it'll be next spring before you know it and we'll be watching our lives just dissolve away. At the least the weather has been reasonably benign...

Obviously Borderline Press has been monopolising my life. I eat, sleep, breathe it. I seem to spend time I didn't think I had sorting out problems, smoothing over cracks and generally being 'in charge' and yet we have nothing to show for it and I appear to be, on many occasions, at the mercy of people I'm depending on, but being the new cog in the wheel doesn't afford me any favours, in fact, at times, I think I'm having the piss taken.

Banks have been a burden; printers have been slovenly; creators have tried it on and organisationally it's just planning, replanning and throwing away ideas and starting again. Someone said, 'You'll learn from your mistakes." I said, I don't want to be seen making too many mistakes because by the time we get it right everyone will think we're shite.

But, you know, I have the other blog to talk about Borderline Press. I actually do that semi-regularly. This blog is about my life and the stuff that goes on around it... and... at the moment the only thing happening is Borderline Press.

The quiz team is averagely consistent still; I missed God Is An Astronaut live and was so distraught about it I didn't realise I'd missed the concert until two days after it was on - I've wanted to write my personal scathing review of their new album - Origins - but I haven't had the time to sit down and tell you how dull, boring and uninspiring it is - and that after 5 particular solid and enjoyable post rock albums, the band appear to have lost it. With due deference to Roger, perhaps GIAA should become God is an Accountant...

We've just about caught up with the rest of the world on Breaking Bad; it finished last night, we have 1 episode to watch - so no spoilers!

I have to admit that the last couple of months have been so busy and full of stuff that at times I have found myself staring - in my head - at not just a big bag of tobacco, but at mixing the big bag of tobacco with illegal substances - especially when I lie in bed at night with my mind racing and wishing that I could Just. Go. To. Sleep! But I've not gone down that route because I actually feel pretty good now that I'm nearly 14 months into it and I like being alive, even if life seems to be whizzing past ...

Anyhow... I'm now stuck for stuff to write about, so I think it's time for...

Fishwife Tales (episode 273)

Mr Miserable, the guy who lives next door to the Lithuanians (formerly known as the Sexually Explicit Family) upped and left his wife for a younger woman about three weeks ago. At first we thought there must have been some form of tragedy over there; what with all the red eyes and hugging, but it appears that the bald cunt who has never spoken a word to me in 13 years because his former next door neighbour didn't like me, has run off with a 40 year old woman who has three divorces behind her. Mr Miserable had been with his partner for 33 years; they were childhood sweethearts. I suppose it was a bit of a tragedy.

The Lithuanians have been extremely quiet.

The Wide Bwoy and his pregnant spouse are still in the throes of renovating the Dead Bloke's old house and they appear to be doing a good job, even if the constant presence of builders - coupled with a water main bursting in the street - has made our normally quiet little road a hive of activity and noise. The downside of Wide Bwoy is the amount of friends with kids they have. The street has been slowly filling up with families - young families - and I think the wife and I are looking at an exit strategy at some point.

Fuckwit continues to spend money like its going out of style and while I have no idea of his circumstances, I do know he is on DLA and she gets benefits for being his carer. I was told the car valeting I see every three weeks or so might be paid for by Motobility - but I've since found out that that applies to new cars. They've downsized from their focus back to a Y reg WagonR, but still pay some guy to clean their car - they must be filthy...

They have also had all the soffits replaced and that thing that sits above front doors in old houses - the thing that usually stops the rain from falling on you - they had that replaced with something that looks like it wouldn't be out of place on TOWIE. The house is covered in scaffold; they've had gardeners in again and frankly if they can afford any of this without their benefits they shouldn't be on benefits and if they are paying for all of this with benefits then I'm getting to the stage in my life where I find that offensive and I might have to mention something to someone...

**UPDATE** Fuckwit found over £5000 to have his house tarted up from the outside. £5000 for soffits, and a new thing over the door? You are having a laugh? But Fishwife told me and he knows everything. If Fuckwit and Fat Lass have forked out £5k then I really want to know how he's getting this money and I am so, so, impressed that someone ripped him off!

That brings us to the inevitable Fishwife. How do you think I know about Mr Miserable? Fishwife knew. How did I know about Wide Bwoy (and his mortgage woes)? Fishwife knew. We've had some pretty good weather for sitting on the patio doing some work on the laptop - I've resorted to wearing headphones, even if I haven't got any music on otherwise he'll be leaning on the metaphoric wall and start shooting the breeze with me - whether I want to or not. In fact, because I have been so busy recently, I've got quite abrupt with him at times and while I worry because my dogs do make some noise, they don't make half as much as Fishwife's two boys, who currently seem to be on a 'let's see how much I can wind my brother up' campaign.

Yesterday, the eldest was riding his bike on their decking - a game that is becoming increasingly difficult as they are growing exponentially - and decided to start ringing his bell. I was attempting to take ten minutes to read some of the new Stephen King novel and literally five of them were non-stop ringing of a bicycle bell. Had I been nearer the kid I would have ripped the bell off and shoved it down his throat... Noisy little shit...

I fear going out in the garden at times, especially if he's there, because he'll want to talk and he'll gossip and I seem to have grown out of it. When I had nothing better to do it was fine, but I struggle with time management at the moment; Fishwife doesn't appear to believe in it at all...

Which brings me to the distinct possibility that we're going to move in the next couple of years, depending on the success of Borderline Press. As long as I have broadband we can live just about anywhere and the destination of choice appears to be the south Scottish coast along the Solway Firth. Provided we can afford to move there, this is the embryonic plan. I will end up with a Scottish fishwife and fuckwit, but at least their accents will be mellifluous and different - for a while.

Until then, I shall sit here in my office and when I'm not stressing and up to my eyeballs in work, I will stare out of the window and dream...

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Who, Why, Where, When and What the?

Blimey...

I can't remember the last time I did just one blog in a month and that was the one I called a kind of contractual obligation blog. This one feels like a blog that needs to be written before it all gets forgotten about...

So in the style of ineptias et effercia ...
  • Bale - traitorous Welsh scumbag. I don't deny anyone the right to improve themselves but the way he went about it was pathetic and so below him I kind of hope (in an evil and nasty way) that he does a 'Woodgate' while at Real Madrid. 
  • Phone - bloody hell. I got my most recent mobile phone in 2008; mobile phone technology hasn't so much developed as left me behind. I now have a phone that doesn't look too dissimilar to one of those fangled iphone jobbies. Apparently it has x more memory and ting than the iphone my memory was basing it on. It does things that my first computer would have dreamt of doing and it scares the bejesus out of me...
  • Borderline Press - there will be a News Blog at some point in the next couple of weeks (maybe even tomorrow). I just want to make sure the entries for that weren't like the entries for this blog a couple of years ago. Keep'em wanting more!
  • Summer - finished Thursday.
  • Shed roof - finished Thursday. But GET IN!!! I am notorious for being the shittest DIY person whoever lived with all the functioning limbs. I conquered a slight fear of heights, a roof made of filo pastry and honeycomb and various other hazards, obstacles and a blazing hot sun to recover the shed roof. That's correct, those of you with good memories for trite things will remember that recovering the shed roof was one of my BIG tasks for the summer... of 2012.
  • Monitors - two of the buggers, giving me and extended screen. How do people only cope with one?
    This actually is what my desk top looks like sometimes...
  • The funniest joke in the world - the punchline of which is Roy Orbison. However, there's more to it than that. Back in the 1980s, when I was best known for being that 'stoned guy', I had a friend (who sadly amounted to nothing) who I spent a lot of time with and got pissed and stoned with very often. One day, while or shortly after sampling some hashish or some such, I came up with (or it might have been him) the fuinniest joke in the world. It was so funny that we lost 22 minutes of our lives laughing so hard and so fiercely that a bystander might have thought we'd been repeatedly kicked in the testicles with white hot shoes on. We were collaborating at the time and I grabbed a sheet of paper, scribbled down the legend that some people think was 'Roy Orbison' and turned to the guy I was with and said, as I saw it slipping out of my grasp, "What was the start of that joke again?" He looked at me with that slightly confused expression he has retained and shook his head. He couldn't remember. I couldn't remember, but it was still there, I just needed something to bring the memory back. But what was worse was I turned to the guy I was with and said, "Roy Orbison," and it set us off laughing again for about another 5 minutes, by which time neither of us could remember what the actual joke was...
  • IE - That's Internet Explorer, not the educational definition, and it did something the other day that caused me grief for almost the entire day and all because of something that shouldn't - couldn't - have happened... I wouldn't use IE if it was the last browser on the planet and the only alternative would to browse the web by sticking my head up Bella Emberg's arse. I hate it, it's shit. However, it is in my menu thingy and on Tuesday, when Neil was over developing me spreadsheets for Borderline that I would easily understand, he, unfamiliar with my PC and my new double dynamic monitor system, didn't notice that I already had Chrome open, went into the menu, found IE and opened it. I saw him and cried "Noooooooooooo," in that Homer mocking Charlton Heston way and told him to shut it down because it was evil. No shit, I said, "Shut it down, it's evil..." In a Wicked Witch of the West way and he did just that. Clicked it off and it shut down straight away. Except...
    Something happened; I don't know how and I've asked people in my frustration why this strange phenomena happened and they didn't know either. In fact the person who gave the solution - because it's happened before - doesn't really know how it happens (and when a developer says that you have to wonder a wee bit). Anyhow, it seems the opening and closing of IE inexplicably ticked the 'work offline' option in the menu; this then affected all my Microsoft products and anything that uses a Microsoft product. I was put 'offline' in the new equivalent of Outlook; it caused problems in Google Chrome; it was one simple thing that caused me no end of grief because I would never have considered IE was the culprit... I had to go back into IE, click to 'offline' button and shut it down again. All in all, a major headache and proving my point that it's evil.
  • I have had a reasonable harvest this year; the most pleasing being actual red tomatoes (and yellow ones!). We had enough green beans for one dinner and the purple potatoes (skin only) were surprisingly versatile. We had some very ordinary white beetroot to go with the normal red stuff and we might get a pepper or a courgette before the end of September, weather permitting (but these weren't planned they just grew out of the compost).
  • I have been reading nothing but comics in foreign languages; looking at pretty pictures; watching Breaking Bad (now on season 4); listening to whatever takes my fancy - today it has been Talk Talk and Jon Hopkins. My 'hard walking' regime has been set back by my hard breathing. 
  • That's it. I will be back, I just don't know when...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Surely, If You Wallop Someone... Eugh.

I am more than aware that the once ubiquitous blogs have dwindled during a period of time when one would expect me to be at my most prolific – the summer; but, you know, starting up a publishing house tends to take its toll on your time and I’ve actually been doing so much I’ve barely had the time to sit down and write anything that resembles a blog. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing though… and, of course, that means at some point you’ll be exposed to some proper dodgy writing rather than the usual dodgy stuff.
The demands of starting a business aside, I’ve been trying to write and edit the Robotz story and my artist partner seems happy with the route I‘m going. I have never felt more alive than on deadlines – I realised this a few years ago when I gave myself a deadline to complete a task, it added a frisson of constraint.

I remember a number of occasions where the guy who replaced me as news editor at Comics International failed to deliver a page at the 13th hour and I would, literally, knock one together in 15 minutes. Of course the downside of this was my boss was intelligent enough to realise that if I could knock up a perfectly adequate page design and fill it in less time than it took him to drink a cup of coffee, why on Earth was he paying us so much money (for, some would say, old rope)? If only starting this business was so easy…
Once, not so long ago, I would have devoted an entire blog over to the fact that I have now passed the one year point in my no smoking campaign. As an addict, I know that there can’t be any slip ups because I’m in a stressy period and I could easily succumb. However, the wife and I have been watching Breaking Bad for the last couple of weeks and this crystal meth stuff that Walter White manufactures looks far more interesting than other more legal drugs… J

I look a little like Walter at the moment – shaved head, heavy stubble, and when I was in the opticians last week sorting out my eyes, I put on a pair of frames that made me look just like Walt did when he first shaved his head. I’m sort of glad I flunked chemistry.
See? (If you’ll pardon the impending pun) I’ve been to the optician and that would normally have probably required a biographical illumination and probably a long descriptive passage about some fuckwit who I argued with. Instead, I was seen by a pretty little petite thing and a very amiable eye doctor. There was a woman there with level 3 COPD. This was the only thing I needed to see and hear to make me realise that I made a very sound decision stopping smoking. I haven’t got my new glasses yet because I want the wife to accompany me as the ones I‘m currently wearing she would not have let me buy had she had her way.

There is below this somewhere a photo just taken on the webcam of me sitting on the patio writing this with said glasses on. Here’s modern technology for you? Next there’ll be things like mobile phones and looms…

Actually taken over a week ago, that's how behind I am!
Oh and yes that is an old man's vest
Obviously the Moby look went out years ago. I got these glasses as a kind of homage to my dad who wore glasses that I didn’t think suited him… That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I need new glasses because all of this close up work is giving me monster headaches – like the one brewing at this moment. But that might just be down to the fact that Fishwife can’t get out of his back door at the moment and is having to use the alley to take his dog up and down to the loo. Whenever he uses the alley, Lexy takes personal umbrage at this and causes merry hell. Seriously, if you saw this meek and mild dog behave when someone is in the back alley, you would deter burglars from even contemplating doing either house.


I could bang on about how you all need to discover the truth about welfare figures and don’t go believing everything the right wing press and UKP tells you. I could also recommend you go and read the Guardian’s excellent piece on whether or not fracking is environmentally dangerous – and it leaves you to make up your on mind. Or I could take photos of massive beetroot and show you how piss poor my potatoes look like they’re  going to be. But I won’t. I don't want to talk about football either, or cricket, or the weather (but hasn't the weather since May, on the whole, been a blessed relief?)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

It's Mainly About Me

Here’s something you wouldn’t expect me to say – life is good.

I have days where I think my head is going to explode, but part of that is down to the fact that since Borderline Magazine finished I’ve largely lived my working life on autopilot and do you know, it made my brain stagnate. Because my focus was on sensible things and supporting people, the creative juices simply stopped flowing. For all my rhetoric about hating comics and all the surrounding stuff, I think that’s just me – never bloody happy with everything and vocal about it.

There are times, like sitting on the phone to the bank for 55 minutes on one of the hottest days of the year, when I get despondent and think all this legal and start up bullshit is doing my head in, but, you know, it’s just a bit of hassle and hopefully in the long run it will prove to be worthwhile. When some people tell me I’m mad or regale me with horror scenarios; or tell me that any comics publisher outside the top 4 loses more money than they make (then how are they still in business then?), my reaction is always the same. These companies are not me. These setbacks will be overcome by me. The hurdles will be jumped by me. The people at these rival publishers aren’t ME!
Just this once, it really is all about me.

So, I’m sitting here, on the patio, enjoying the rapidly clouding over last day of proper summer. The forecast for the next few weeks appears to the kind we’ve all gotten used to; cloud, rain and cooler temperatures. The heat wave hasn’t so much been burst as had a series of little pinpricks which have slowly allowed it to dissipate, by Monday, I reckon, it will be 20 degrees and at least I’ll be able to breathe again and return to my increasingly escalated fitness regime.

I’ve got Fuck Buttons blaring out in my headphones and there is much news that I have unbelievably neglected to mention…

The best wedding ever took place at Dodford Manor on Sunday 14th when Neil and Jenny got married on a baking hot day. I cannot remember a wedding that was so enjoyable and that so many people were blown away by. That’s my wife’s creative brother for you and in many ways it brought back memories of his twin brother’s funeral (Glynn would have loved to have been at Dodford) because that was the best funeral I’ve ever been to, so I suppose there was some symmetry involved and as my key word at the moment is ‘symmetry’ it’s fitting.

I posted about 100 photos up on Facebook and we took over 650 in all. Wonderful food, fabulous music, great hosts, excellent guests, sexy women, hot sunshine, unexpected guests and smiles all round. Welcome to the family Jen, you made a good choice (but so did Neil)!

The other big news is the new neighbours who have moved into the Dead Man’s house. The first thing you immediately notice is they are young, and they have a kid and another on the way and that he has this big fuck off customised van and she has a car and they have lots of friends and suddenly with Fishwife, the Lithuanians and the Noisy Woman and various other new additions up and down the street it’s no longer a nice quiet suburban street inhabited by people who appreciate peace and tranquillity. For the first time since we’ve lived here the streets are full of the noises of kids and frankly I fucking hate it and the sooner we have enough money to move to Kirkcudbright the better.

As for ‘Yoot Bwoy’ and his pregnant missus, the jury is out. I did here him talking on the phone to one of his homies hence why he has initially been christened Yoot Bwoy, because despite being as white as my arse he has that slightly cockney Jamaican patois, the one us middle aged old twonks just love…

So to recap: on the left is Fuckwit and Fat Girl; on the right is Fishwife and Fat Lass; over the road are, to the right Mr Miserable, the Lithuanians, Yoot Bwoy, The Token Black Family and then Weird Bloke and the Stranger daughter. These are essentially the houses I see from my office window. There is the Incest family next to Fuckwit and CinderNelly (must tell you about her at some point) next to Fishwife and the Noisy Family next to CinderNelly. Fat Lass actually called her CinderNelly and it stuck; she thinks she’s a princess and she looks like Dumbo.

Time has come for a business meeting. I shall resume this, if there’s any great need, later…

… Turned into a day later, because that’s what my life is like at the moment!

The best thing about this is my pessimism is failing; even my forecast that summer would be over today is wrong – despite a forecast that said torrential rain, thunderstorms and cooler temperatures, I’m out here on the patio again, in my shorts, looking at a largely clear sky apart from some very high cloud; with a bit of luck the shit weather will head east and today will be fabulous! [That was written a few hours ago; we've just had some extremely pleasant thunderstorms, even if the dogs are wigged out.]

Heck, I’m even pretty ambivalent about the coming football season – although I’m sure that will change once Spurs lose to Palace and various other shit teams (sorry Tim).

This weekend has already seen news about Borderline Press start to permeate the great hide of internet comics fandom and I hope by the middle of next week to increase my already burgeoning workload – doing this work is great, I love it.


I always said I would never use Borderline as a vanity project, but sometimes an opportunity is just too good to turn down and that’s how I’ve ended up writing the story for a book I’m going to publish next year. It is a tale of sadness and hope in a future world where humanity’s legacy is being maintained by the unlikeliest of sources. The artwork is fully painted and the artist is the magnificent Joanna Karpowicz, who is celebrating her birthday as I write this!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Touching Cotton

I suppose the odd thing is that this time last year I was writing about 3 blogs a week and probably boring people rigid with pointless meanderings about life from my patio.

I don't appear to have the time for frivolity at the moment. Setting up a new publishing business is unbelievably hard work beset by days of anger, days of frustration, days of elation and just days where all I seem to do is just go over old ground all the time. Don't get me wrong; I'm loving every minute of this new venture, even the setbacks and the knock backs.

I haven't felt so alive for 10 years.

Things are also beginning to move along. I have one definite project; two which aren't finished yet but I have first refusal on; a project that I appear to have volunteered myself to write - a children's book (which I am very excited about - despite my obvious reservations about publishing myself and the stigma attached to that); and I've started negotiation with a couple of people about producing collections of their web comics. And I also have my stumpy mitts involved in another children's book, but that won't be ready until 2014. Plus I continue to rebuild links, repair napalmed bridges and reconnect with people that for a number of years I believed I'd never have anything to do with! The initial plan was to have two or three books out just before Christmas and that plan is still very much on schedule!

It appears that the government accidentally allowed their Direct.gov website to have the link for a bogus company... I was looking for some government grants, to help with the set up of the company and I was directed towards a company called Business Grants - http://www.ukgrants.org.uk/ - who eventually offered me some money for web development on the proviso I paid something up front. My team of scrutinisers all warned me that something was dodgy about this and subsequent investigation has led to me believing that this is a bogus company, despite assurances from one of their 'customers' that they were okay.

A search on their registered address showed nothing. There was no phone number. No trading address. No way for anyone to get in contact with them other than an email address. No FRN - a 6-digit number they should have if they are a registered company (my company has one, why don't they?). But more importantly, not a single email has been answered from them since Tuesday when my alarm bells started going off. The only thing I can find about this company on line is a thread on a notice board about them being a con. That was enough for me to feel disheartened but also realistic; did I really expect this current government to give anything to new businesses or have affiliates that weren't dodgy?

***

It appears the summer could come to a crashing halt by next weekend. I know there are some who think this is a great thing, but I have a certain amount of sadness about it. England - my bits, anyhow - has looked like a proper summer. The fields are a lovely golden colour - which is nice when you've just seen green and grey for the last seven years - the fields are full of wild flowers and grasses that are having, if you'll excuse the expression, a real field day of growth and the late spring has meant that this country looks as good as it has for years. It is a pleasure to walk the dogs and be out in this heat and sun.

But... By Tuesday we'll be seeing those fabled thunderstorms that often follow decent weather and by next Saturday the forecast is for about 20 degrees; about 10 degrees cooler than what we've been used to. That said, I might be sitting here in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt at the moment, but its cloudy and cool out there at the moment and part of me think that even if we see ridiculous temperatures over the next couple of days (35 in London tomorrow apparently), I think we've seen the end of summer until perhaps September. I just can't help thinking that August is going to be a cool washout. I have been wrong about the weather already this year, so we shall see.

The irony is that if we get cooler, low pressure driven weather, I breathe so much easier and I even get to sleep!

Of course, it could just be wishful thinking that the weather for the next 6 weeks is going to be crap; but I don't want people thinking I'm being pernicious...

***

When I was at the Youth Offending Service, I worked with a lot of very knowledgeable people - one of them was even the social worker for one of the Jamie Bulger killers until he was 18. I learnt an awful lot and one of the things I became aware of was that people who put child pornography on the internet are a) going to get caught and b) idiots.

David Cameron's desire to prevent any paedophiles accessing illegal material and roping in Google, Yahoo, Bing and all the others seems, on the surface, to be admirable. Except, you can't find child porn on the internet. It's hidden, in news groups, usenet and private - access only - sites that are disguised to be as innocuous as possible. Child porn is not pornography; it is a wholly different beast in its distribution and the people purveying this sad filth are experts and a lot more expert than Cameron's self-appointed web gurus.

The cynic in me has seen torrent sites banned by my ISP because there is a fear that the 2% of the population who illegally download stuff will rob the world of vital finance (but these places spring up again two days later under a different website allowing those 2% to carry on regardless) and now the proposal to ban all pornography sites, which, of course, will result in them just moving themselves around. Look at Pirate Bay - every time Virgin or BT ban them, they pop up with a new site somewhere else; that gets banned and they pop up again. The one key factor here is that if you use Pirate Bay to download the torrents file you need and they have been blocked, a quick search on ... a search engine ... and you'll find a mirror site that hasn't been banned - ad infinitum. If you can't find a mirror, you'll find another torrents site, offering the same service (until they are shut down and someone else steps in). Have I said 'ad infinitum' already?

China has all kinds of problems monitoring the Internet. It is believed that for every 70 people they prevent from going to places the Chinese government don't want them near, 30 people have already found a way round it and are viewing things via a proxy server.

Could it be that Cameron is so desperate to impose bans and barriers on the Internet because more now than ever before anti-government rhetoric is rife on the net. As more and more people become hooked on the net, more and more are exposed to anti-government 'propaganda'. Hiding behind 'child pornography' as an excuse is almost cowardly.

Incidentally, if you want to stamp out child porn, shut down Usenet. Oh, it's a US creation and 70% of the users are from the USA. That isn't going to happen then...

***

It's Monday now. After a dull weekend, the sun is out, the temperature is rising and we're going to melt. Great innit?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kick in the Teeth

I have a real moral dichotomy with Kickstarter. If you’re a musician without a record label, an amateur without a publishing contract or just a wannabe with some chutzpah, then if you can persuade people in this current climate to part with cash you deserve to get what you ask for and produce the thing you’re promising.

However, if you are independently wealthy and you view Kickstarter as a way to do something you are not confident about spending your own money on, then I start to have a serious problem. I actually find it morally reprehensible for a rich person to use Kickstarter, because, you know, you don’t fucking need to. I actually have a serious problem with anyone who has money resorting to this kind of ‘begging’ – it’s an insult to all the people who genuinely ‘need’ your money because they can’t afford to do it. You could argue that if they can’t afford it then they have no right to do it, but what’s the point of Kickstarter if it’s just going to be for people who would rather use your money than their own?

I first got pissed off about this new kind of funding stream when some US producer managed to, in my humble opinion, scam $2.5million to do a movie based on a failed TV show. I read in comments on blogs and Tumblr about this and kind of gave a silent cheer when people started suggesting that the $2.5m might have been better spent on charitable concerns, because you know, raising that kind of money to finance a film isn’t going to put food on the table of the poor. But that’s a different issue and nerds and geeks will justify their passion even if it means someone dies of starvation in a country that isn’t in Africa.

The thing that has tweaked my ire this time around is actually two things. The first is the fact I spent nearly an entire day putting together, filling in and ensuring the application for a grant to help my new business was faultless only to discover a week later that it had been rejected and a reason was not offered – the people who dish out new business grants don’t actually tell you why they’ve rejected your application, so you don’t know what to do ‘right’ next time you want to be rejected…
A friend suggested I go to Kickstarter and I looked at him like he’d just suggested shagging me or my wife. The logic behind my reasons for not thinking this was viable were clear – I’m setting up a limited company, I dread to think what the bullshit involved in getting independent funding for it from a thousand people might entail – it’s bloody hard enough at the moment without muddying the waters even more.

The other reason was one I didn’t go into. I had just read an interview with a famous writer who claimed that Kickstarter was the way forward; the way for things to be done, now and in the future – presumably with no threat to his own bank balance? This is where I have a massive problem; a friend said he saw a project by Zack Braff on there; you know the guy, he was in Scrubs for years, makes indie films and I’m thinking probably is quite independently wealthy… So why is he wanting to gamble with your money? And more importantly, why are people allowing him to gamble with their money when he clearly has enough of his own?

I know a musician whose Kickstarter was a success and it allowed him to record his first album in years; 1000+ fans were delirious and it helped fund some tours and the chance of another new album in the coming year or so. This guy hadn’t been near a label in years and the best he could do was probably some bedroom tapes sent to a small but select mailing list – suddenly the 1980s has been reinvented… But the point is I believe that if 1000+ people paid for his new album, got it and everyone was happy then fine, they have something for their investment even if it could have been an album of him farting into a goat’s mouth. Would he have released that album without Kickstarter? Probably not. Could Zack Braff do his project without Kickstarter? Probably with the small change in his wallet.

I’m not suggesting Kickstarter should prevent wealthy people from making the same appeals as amateurs or poor people, but I do sort of think there should be a disclaimer that says, “You are aware that this is an independently wealthy individual asking for you to take the risk on his idea rather than him use any of his extensive wealth!?” Then if people want to invest in it, then they deserve everything they might get.

***

Summer has been going strong for nearly two weeks now and the forecast suggests that it could last at least two more weeks. I said not so long ago that this year reminds me of 1975, the year people forget because they were either not born or 1976 is far more prominent. 1975 was a late, long hot summer. If we’re following those kind of patterns, then 2014 is going to molten.

The irony is that for most of the last fortnight I have struggled to breathe very well; it’s in weather like this that COPD really plays its hand and despite having wonderful weather when we were in Scotland last year, it was much easier to breathe because we were by the coast. This has made us change our long term plans again…

Our dream when we were in our 30s was to go and live in the West Highlands; but during our 40s we decided that this was impractical as a retirement idea, especially with Mr Healthy here. Dorset became the new favourite, but then we saw how many snobs lived there so we scrubbed that idea. After spending a glorious week in Wigtown last August, we’ve changed to moving to the south west of Scotland and probably not after we retire! If my business takes off, it doesn’t matter where I am as long as I have space and broadband, so it like doesn’t matter where I am…

I’m sitting here writing this on the patio; the temperature is already 30 degrees and it’s not 11.30 yet. I’m sweating like a rancid clunge and we have a weekend full of stuff, the centrepiece of which is the wife’s brother Neil and his wedding to the lovely Jenny. Those of you who have known us for years will probably be amazed that Neil is getting married, what with him only being 7, but of course he’s only been 7 in my eyes; he’s even younger in the wife’s! He is now 37 and the weather forecast is perfect for what we hope will be as auspicious as day as the one I had on September 13th 1986.

Effercio et Ineptias

·         There might be podcasts…
·         Listening to Triple S on the headphones; it’s wonderful Teutonic ambient wibbling about Antarctica and is absolutely perfect as background music.
·         I am reading nothing at the moment; I have been listening to Salem’s Lot on this here netbook as an audiobook.
·         We’ve had strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb so far this summer. We had four redcurrants and we’ll have a lot of blackcurrants. The spuds look patchy. The tomatoes are better than I have ever seen then, as are the beetroots. We have four strange things growing among said beetroots – they look like spinach, taste a bit like spinach but are developing large white bulbs – like white beetroot – at the bases. It’s generating a lot of fun speculation and I want to eat one!
·         I’ve just about given up on television…

Sunday, July 07, 2013

A New Book Review

NOS 4R2
by Joe Hill

I struggled with this book at first; it seemed... bitty. It jerked around a lot; there was a lot being told and it had a quality about it that suggested the writer was born into the MTV generation - which, indeed, he was. It was also different than his previous novels (which one hopes will be the case), but it was different in that I struggled to continue reading it for a while because it made me feel uncomfortable.

It is a book that parents should avoid, because it plays on just about every fear a parent has and doesn't offer one shred of redemption from those fears. You read it almost knowing that there isn't going to be a happy ending; that this is Joe Hill's Pet Semetary, the book so many people love that was written by his father and offers nothing but death, despair and cold relentless end. NOS 4R2 does that almost from the first word; it's harsh, uncompromising and very, very unlike his father's books, despite being a horror novel.

Stephen King doesn't write books like this; books with a world view; books that contain real characters that are shown unreal things and simply cannot comprehend them. In King's novels, the weird happens and people, kind of, accept it. Even something as 'worldly' as Under the Dome it was about the people coping rather than the reaction from the other side of the barrier; this book plunges the real world into an impossible situation and it's what makes the book shine so brightly.

I have just finished NOS 4R2 and I still can't shake the feeling that there are probably thousands of holes in it; also that I shouldn't care about characters who have not been created the way his dad creates characters; these are no rich tapestries of humanity, Hill tells us what we need to know, the rest is unimportant (and I liked that too).

I will give no spoilers except to say that at the end the tears were in my eyes. Also, it does something really clever, so clever you will laugh despite it not being a funny thing. It also allows the 'real world' to accept that 'something' happened but to carry on regardless, which is why at some point, at the end, you know the book has to finish, because the epilogue would open a beer barrel full of worms (and probably worms with teeth) and I'm not sure how anyone in reality would deal with the unreality of it all.

It is a really creepy, scary and almost slapstick book. The villains are both very, very nasty and yet behave at times like the Chuckle Brothers doing Burke & Hare. The main protagonists are all really likeable and it all fits together really well and at the end you look at the book and wonder why his dad couldn't write something so good. Don't get me wrong, there are Stephen King books that piss on this from a great height, but there hasn't been a King book since (imho) Insomnia that is as good as this (albeit for different reasons).

You know when a critic calls a book 'a roller coaster of a ride'? Well, this is. A quite brilliant book, with a superb and spectacular denouement and a simply perfect ending.

9½ out of 10

Friday, June 28, 2013

Time Sensitive

Phil's theory of time isn't new. It's something I have used to explain the passage of time to make myself feel happier about the fact that most of the people I've grown up with, if they're not dead yet, look like they are going to be on first name basis with it in the next 20 years.

Space is another. Being a sensitive soul, when I was younger - very young - I used to work myself up into a right tizz because ... the universe never ends. It has essentially always been there and it always will be. Wrong, you say, but I'm talking existentialism here. When you're 8 and someone tells you that it doesn't matter how fast you travel and for as long as you like you will never ever come to the edge of the universe and if, somehow, you did there would be nothing on the other side; it was the 'nothing on the other side' bit that fucked me up. Being told that the universe sits in a huge sea of nothing works on a basic level until you realise that nothing is... um... nothing. Proper nothing is nothing at all - no air, no dust, no Justin Beiber, no... space or time - nothing, nought, nout, bugger all.

Now, you can look in the fridge and there's nothing in there, but there is, even if you don't want to eat mould, stale air, that thing at the back that you were sure didn't have legs and fur when you bought it. Space time nothing is something that can have you thinking your brain into twists, knots and aneurysms and because I'm just a wee bit special, it bugged the life out of me for years. Then someone said, 'Imagine this' and I did and everything was okay again ...

You get to the edge of the universe; it's still expanding at a rate of knots, but you have a super-duper goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle'. You step outside the universe and on the other side is just nothing. a bit, for argument's sake, white nothingness. You get into your goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle' and move away from the universe at the fastest speed you can go for 1 million years (you don't age in this goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle') and then you stop, get out of the goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle' and walk back one step and you are back into the universe. One step!?! You've travelled at a billion miles an hour for 1 million years and the universe is just behind you - like some cheesy pantomime villain? What the...?

But you see outside of the universe is nothing, so you can't really go anywhere in a nothing that is both the biggest and the smallest entity never to have existed.

Time isn't at all like that even if time and space kind of gave this symmetry in that you probably could have one without the other - in that nothingness more like - but it would play havoc with our sense of perspective.

The thing is we take space for granted and therefore we take time as well and the two are immutably linked. If you drive the same route every day for 10 years; the journey you take on the 10th anniversary is the same as the journey you took the very first time; except in your head it takes much less time even if the journey time is always 27 minutes. You become so familiar with the 27 minutes that it takes less time - in your mind's eye - than it does, even if it doesn't. See?

A ten year old will be told she can have something next year and to her next year is like forever. In reality next year is a 10th of her life. If I'm told I'll have to wait until next year it's like a 50th of my life - basic maths at work here - a tenth is bigger than a 50th and add in the extra existentialism and wow, a ten year old's perception of a year is the kind of thing a 50 year old would sell their soul for.

Monotony is a time dragger. I'm guessing the summer of 1976 seemed like it went on forever not because I was only 14 (and therefore experiencing just a 14th of my life), but because the weather from May through to the end of September (except for August Bank Holiday where it tipped it down for three torrential days) was the same, every day. You woke up, the sky was blue, the sun was out, the temperature rose steadily and it didn't change. Some days the high pressure area over us brought bits of cloud and slightly cooler temperatures, but in general it was monotonous (not that I'm complaining; give me some of that weather-specific monotony now, baby!) and the reason us Brits think time flies is because of the temperate climate and ever changing weather patterns. I'm thinking if you were born in Dubai you probably think 80 years is more like 280 (but, equally, the human brain probably speeds up monotony when you live in a place that rarely changes).

This is all theory, but it stops me from going completely bat-shit or trying to build a goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle' to prove my point.

The fact that the equinox is behind us already is a scary thought. When I was a child days seemed to last as long as years (it's that perception thing again) and I regularly did three and four things in a day and had bus fair for a bag of chips (or something like that). Today, I sit here for an undefined amount of time and suddenly it's next week and I'm thinking - 'my life is made up of emptying the dishwasher' because I seem to do it more than once a day, although I KNOW I only empty it once a day.

Moving on...

I've always been a bit of a twat. And while my latest 'kick' has nothing twattish about it in the slightest, I sort of feel like I should be hit with a huge twat stick until I cry.

I have this COPD thing, which, I explain to people is a bit like angina in that it's there and it shouldn't bother me as long as I look after myself. I have my new inhaler, my lack of cigarettes and this new thing... this alien fuckwittery that doesn't sit well with me from a past perspective.

My pulmonary system is buggered. It isn't fucked, but it has been irreversibly damaged; as a result I will suffer from chest ailments for the rest of my life and I have a 90% certainty that I will eventually suffocate to death, like my mother did...

Two of the dogs are overweight. Marley because she eats everything and Lexy because the winter and cold spring lasted so long none of the dogs did the amount of exercise they really needed; there was no swimming and I kind of think because we trudged them out, wrapped up like Eskimos, feeling cold and monotonous (because it lasted so long), they didn't get the amount of energy burn to keep them trim, because we lacked the urgency they needed to run around a lot. Subsequently, dog biscuit has been reduced and a harder, more determined exercise regime has been put into place. The dogs need to lose weight or it will shorten their lives. That bothers me more than my own life span, because, you know, the dogs are my kids.

So getting Marley to run around isn't difficult; she does it a lot, she just mixes it with eating ANYTHING she can put in her mouth. So, she has her muzzle on now. She doesn't like it and if people tell you dogs don't sulk, it's just our interpretation, you have my permission to call them retards. Dogs sulk like teenage girls who have been grounded and had their phones confiscated.

Lexy is just lazy. Lexy would like you to get her a Tesco trolley and push her around, or better still, leave her on a bench in a pub and take the others for a walk. Energy expulsion is reserved for barking at Fishwife when he goes into his back garden.

The need for them to burn off all this fat supersedes everything, even my health. So dog walks have increased in time and distance. I plan my routes via Google Maps and have to push myself as hard as the dogs because I'm suddenly giving myself hills and rough tracks to walk. At first it was all a bit of a nightmare and I found that for three days after I'd have that 'yawning' feeling, like I wasn't getting anywhere near as much oxygen into my body. Then at the start of this week - three weeks into this new 'walk until you think you've done enough and then walk for another 15 minutes' mindset, something really odd happened.

I started to feel good...

That's a lie. I didn't feel good. I'd be hunched over at the top of a hill I'd just pushed myself up and I'd be breathing like a woman who had just had the most explosive orgasm ever after the most dirty and energetic sex she could ever imagine.

Yet... A year ago, I would have taken 20 minutes to even be in a position to move again. Now, despite the lungs, I'm walking again within 3 minutes and I'm pushing myself to walk again. I don't procrastinate when I'm walking. It's about covering the distance and making sure that Lexy keeps up with me (because Marley is always ahead of me). I'm pacing myself; breathing properly while walking (and avoiding talking) and I can feel my body loving every minute of it to the point where I look forward to my next walk.

My body isn't loving it at all; at least it isn't in my head; but my legs have stopped aching; the burn I get from lactic acid in my thighs is disappearing. I'm never going to run a marathon (although I might power walk one) or even 400 metres without possibly doing some serious internal damage, but I think I'm fitter now than I have been for 30 years. Someone said the other day that one thing is sure, exercise is a good thing and the more I do the better I get. I might never be able to get my lungs back to how they were, but I'm hopeful that I can make my life a damned sight easier than it might have been. You see, I expect being in my late 60s with an oxygen tube stuffed up my nose and the need to travel around with one of those horrendous motorised scooter abominations is going to be so dull, so laborious, so time-draggingly tedious that my wish for time to slow down will probably only be realised when I have no control over it. So, lets work that body really fucking hard and have a heart attack at 80 doing the Waendal Walk or the Pennine Way. That would be a worthy death considering the damage I've inflicted on myself for the last 35 years (and it would shock a few people: Phil Hall died where? Doing what? You're shitting me?).

I have all the time in the world to get fit, it's just going to seem like it whizzes past.

Effercio et Ineptias
  • This week has been busy busy busy. I have had to juggle accountant's meetings, with phonecalls to people, spending some time with my old best mate Graham, and meeting up with my ex-assistant manager at the shop. As a result, I've missed things (sorry Phil); not got things I need to get done and despite working harder than I have for months, I've still managed not to do everything I wanted to.
  • I have come to the conclusion that if one specific thing will eventually drive (hah) me out of the country, it won't be the Tories, the lack of opportunities or the fuckwits I share the country with, it'll be because of drivers (now you know why I said 'Hah'!) and the fact that people no longer seem to realise that they are driving the equivalent of a loaded hand gun. I was on the receiving end of a road rage person yesterday and all I think I did was approach him a wee bit fast. He was pootling up the Welly Road doing about 20mph and I was doing about 40, the speed limit for that stretch. I slowed down, but he was giving me all kinds of grief in his rear view mirror (to the point where I thought I might have someone dead stuck to the front of my car). When I eventually overtook him, he drove from the outskirts of Northampton to Earl's Barton between 20 and 40mph depending on whether or not I could overtake him, he sat behind me and continued to give me all kinds of grief through the medium of hand gestures. When I finally had enough, stopped the car to get out and confront this twat, he pulled out and drove off, honking his horn at me and calling me a wanker. Obviously I missed something... A memo perhaps?
  • My playlist this week has been: Jon Hopkins, GIAA, Sigur Ros and, um... Oh yeah, I wee bit of Tears for Fears. I maybe need to vary it a little.
  • I'm still reading Joe Hill's NOS 4R2 and I am really enjoying it, sort of. I really enjoy it when I read it, I just can take it or leave it at the moment. I seem to be reading it in blocks and forgetting about it for days until I remind myself I'm halfway through a book.
  • I have given up on so many TV programmes now that I think I need to carry on watching the few that I do or I might as well just give my TV away. However, after watching the 2nd episode of the latest season of True Blood last night, I really think I should stop watching this kind of thing because frankly I could write it better if I was pissed and suffering from a serious head wound.  I cannot believe HBO produce this unbelievable heap of steaming cow excrement. They must pay the actors lots of money because I'd need to be paid lots of money to speak some of the dialogue uttered in this example of how fantasy TV should never ever be made. The shame is that somewhere in there is a promising story that has just been hidden behind soft porn, bad dialogue and some of the most unbelievably bad ideas ever wheeled out in any TV show. It needs to be stopped and sooner rather than later.
  • There's probably more, I can't be arsed though. I think I shall go and sponge alcohol from friends now...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The One Where I Moan Incessantly

That should confuse a few people...

I've tried very hard this week to be negative. It ain't happening. I'm just a bit too pumped up about stuff and ting, as da yoot say.

I was kept waiting at the dole office for 40 minutes and laughed and joked with the PA. We lost the pub quiz - finished 3rd - and that didn't really bother me. I thought I was going to have a heart attack on Thursday night, so I dropped a 3rd party a quick email in case I never show my face here again (although I have a blog scheduled for some point in 2025, so if I did drop dead today there's something to look forward to!) and today my back, which has been relatively incognito for the last year or so is sending me bad vibes. But, hey, I have painkillers. I can have a hot bath. I can ask the wife to put my socks on.

The weather forecast is meh, but just so long as I have the money to go on holiday in September...

I am struggling to understand why there is all the fuss about the British Lions tour; I know rugby fans who struggle to get any enthusiasm for bog standard internationals and this, from what I see, largely pointless amalgamation of four teams (which only happens in football at the Olympics and causes no end of grief amongst associations), who considering its made up of supposedly the best players from those four countries, probably should beat anybody. Still, some people seem to be enjoying it and it gives Sky Sports some form of bragging rights.

I thought Glastonbury was this weekend. I'm sorry, but if it had been it would have been funny.

I have been really pleased to see one of my oldest and dearest friends back in the UK this week. My old pal Graham is over on holiday from Australia and I'm really glad I'm getting to spend some time with him. But... Jeez, you can tell how age catches people up. Once upon a time (probably as little as 9 years ago) we'd be talking music, drugs, sex, all the things that men talk about. On Thursday we talked death, prostates, arthritis, COPD and pensions. WTF?

I was discussing with my '3rd party' friend the other day about my ability to procrastinate and how I really have to overcome it (I appear to be winning) and concentrate on stuff like this 'new project' of mine. This morning, I'd cleaned the ducks out before I had my breakfast. I'd written a few emails; done some necessary chores and decided that at this moment while I am writing this to go and sort out a couple of plants in the garden that need supporting. I got downstairs, put my gardening boots on and the heavens opened. Now, you could argue that I perhaps subconsciously planned it that way, but my peony and some raspberries are not being helped and I like them both...

I'm currently on something of a walking fitness drive. While I'm never going to be fit to run in a marathon or even 1000 metres (without coughing my lungs up or suffocating), I am not going to be restricted by my ailment nor am I going to use one of those motorised wheel-scooter things that Fuckwit uses but obviously just for show. So, I charge around with the dogs and I'm beginning to understand why some people are exercise junkies. The endorphin rush isn't like some exotic narcotic, but there is something exhilarating about it. It's keeping the hounds on their toes too! (The exercise, not my endorphins.)

I have discovered a lot about certain people this week and despite hardly any of it being good, I'm still in a good mood. I also need new glasses; they cost money; I'll make do with the rubbish ones I've got!

I have such a week ahead of me. I have things I have to do on Monday, possibly Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, possibly Friday and definitely Saturday, as we're going to Leicester to see the New Glimmer Twins* and eat food. [*Nothing to do with the old Glimmer Twins] I also have to start planning out my schmoozing schedule and possibly do some things that I've avoided doing.

On that enigmatic note, I'm going to get mud under my nails. Eff Oh Tee!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fishwife Tale

Today has been largely cloudy, one of those English summer days where it looks like it’s going to be cold and it’s actually quite warm. I’m sitting on the patio and the sun is trying desperately hard to come out; it’s 3.35pm.

You’ve got this preamble because initially I came out here, because of the above, to do a bit of research on part of a project I’m working on and because I don’t think I’m going to have that many opportunities between now and September (when I believe summer will start and end). However, within five minutes of sitting here and making half a page of notes, I was entertained by the dulcet tones of one of Fishwife’s loud children…

[Please bear in mind this kid is now about 8] “Daddy… Daddy… DADDY!!!” I know what’s coming; I’ve lived next door to them for long enough.
“What is it ######? I’m a little busy at the moment.” Which, from the sounds of his voice (because it carries), came from inside their house.
“Daddy, I’m having a pooh!” I knew this was going to happen. It happens just about every time the kid goes for a shit. I don’t know if he’s incapable of wiping his own arse, but considering both kids go to a school I could probably hit by spitting out of my bedroom window and yet someone still has to go and pick the little darlings up from school every day, I wouldn’t be surprised. 

In fact, I had this very same conversation with Fishwife about 45 minutes ago…
“Just going on the school run. It’s great fun.” Says he.
“Why?”
“Why am I going on the school run or why is it fun?”
“Yes.”
“The kids are always really happy at the end of the school day.” I’m thinking that didn’t answer my question, so realising what I was doing and quantifying it first by saying the following opinion was in no way directed at him, I said, “Don’t kids have working legs anymore? When I was a child, I went to a school that was over 2 miles from my house. I caught a bus or walked. Are you aware of the actual dangers that people picking their kids up from school is causing because these people want to protect their kids?”
“Um, er, I park quite a way from the school so I don’t block anyone.” He said sounding defensive.
“Why don’t they walk home? It’s not far.”
“Oh, I have to get them back because blah blah blah blah blah blah,” I just zoned out at this point because, being a Hall, I know all about people who put pointless reasons or obstacles up for why they have to or can’t do certain things. He drove his 2 litre turbo charged petrol guzzling cock car the 800 yards or so (as the crow flies and paths go) to walk there, but the near on mile and a half to drive, because of the way the roads round here are designed.

Every morning and every afternoon the country is inflicted with parents who are so fucking lazy they can’t allow their kids to get buses or walk home. And please don’t give me any of this shit about fear of them being abducted because we all know that happens once in a very blue moon; or utter rubbish about them being run over because that’s what some of these fuckwits are going to end up doing if you saw the quality of driving outside of schools or the foresight of some of the (I’m sorry to say, but mainly women) drivers.

We are breeding a race of humans that will resemble the ones out of Wall E within the next couple of hundred years except they’ll have extra-large thumbs for texting and eyes in the top of their head to stop them from walking in to lamp posts.

So anyhow, ###### regularly announces to his dad that he’s ‘having a pooh’ and I’m wondering if it’s some bizarre joke between the two of them… When I was 15 once and sitting on the loo having a dump, a mate of mine called round and my mum shouted up the stairs for me. I called down that I was having a crap and boy did I get told off for being rude, for being disrespectful to her and my friend and most of all for being crude. Oh, how times have changed…

Effercia et Ineptias
  • Fuckwit knocked on the door yesterday; I was cooking so the wife dealt with it. He actually did something neighbourly, but we discovered he is incapable of bending down, which might be his real disability. Too fat and stupid to bend at the waist!
  • We’ve finally got around to watching the Killing 3, the Danish one.
  • Two of the dogs are overweight and are now on extensive exercise programmes and diets. For the ethereal orange dog this doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary; however, for the shit-eating, dung-rolling, dustbin of a dog this is her opportunity to prove that dogs, especially 7 year old bitches, are very capable of being just like petulant teenagers. Jesus, you would never believe a dog could sulk…
  • It is 4.05pm and the sun has come out! Apparently we’re going to have an unseasonable hot day on Wednesday (if the cloud disperses) and then, typically, the weather will turn cooler and more unsettled again.
  • I miss playing Facebook Scrabble, but have been pleased to see all the coverage about the replacement abomination. I have been thoroughly disgusted by the disappearance of the term, ‘The Customer is Always Right’ because once upon a time one negative comment about something would have been dealt with and the Scrabble providers are getting about 30,000 a day and just continue to treat everyone like they are happy…
  • ####### has finished his pooh! I thought you might as well know seeing as the whole of my road does.
  • McVities new double chocolate digestives are possibly the nicest biscuits I have had for years.
  • I’ve been Skyping with my Octogenarian Godparents and I love modern technology!
  • One of my oldest and dearest friends is over from Oz this next week or so; it’s going to be great catching up with him!
  • Rick Stein's India - condescending, carnivorous and borderline racist - an abomination of a TV program.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bitter, Possibly Twisted

I suppose as a socialist I shouldn't mind if I'm used, taken advantage of or just generally looked upon as a vehicle for others to benefit...

Two weeks of rediscovering that my mojo hadn't fled, it had just been sitting at the pit of my soul waiting to be reawakened by something, and then just as it is coaxed out it gets butt-fucked back into oblivion. Tis the way of life for some people.

A more kindly review of my book, My Monthly Curse, suggested that if nothing else my timing is off. It's not like the opportunities aren't there, it's like I'm never in the right place at the right time. The book essentially says look how good and unbelievably unlucky I am. Look how I've helped others make loads of money or have careers while I try not to sound too bitter and twisted about not succeeding myself. I am aware of this. I do know that deep down inside me there is this black and nasty thing that hates everyone and everything because I feel I should have got more out of life than I did. Fortunately (or maybe not) there's this bright, colourful, reasonable angel that tempers the black and says things like - that's what happens when you spend half of your life stoned when you could have been doing something practical with it.

The black can't argue with that logic, even if it argues that even when I had my chances I never got the breaks I deserved... Back in the 1980s, long before any comics nonsense crept back into my life, I made a film; just a short that no longer exists, but despite all its arty pretentiousness, it was something I did and I was happy with the results and the guy who made it, using me as the only actor, was also happy and as a result it got him extra work, professional work. This was at the height of the music video craze and he was invited to do a video for a band and he was going to get me to reprise the part I'd done in the earlier short. But then he either changed his mind or someone changed it for him because a 'proper' actor was brought in and I was offered a small amount of nothing to be the on-set dog's body. Now, don't get me wrong, I can totally understand sacrificing an enthusiastic mate for a 'proper' actor, but I'm sure the proper actor started off as someone's enthusiastic mate...

It all went tits up when the 'producer' of the video stole from me. We were back at my place at the time and while I was upstairs getting changed and sorting some things out, he was helping himself to the contents of my food cupboard; crisps, biscuits, anything he could take and I went slightly fucking bonkers at him. I was unemployed and had little money and he had essentially eaten my weeks supply of munchie food in five minutes and couldn't understand what the fuss was. The director, who was more wrapped up in the film and is never one for minutiae of this nature, also couldn't see what my problem was and I sloped off of the video production with my tail between my legs thinking that I was made to feel like I overreacted. 26 years later I still don't think I overreacted. But, you know, if I'd allowed myself to be used without complaint, who knows it might have been me starring in the film made all those years later rather than the guy who 'replaced' me on that video shoot all those years ago...

I 'let him down' is a common phrase I hear from people I have worked for. Dez said it all the time although I never actually let him down on purpose. I didn't wake up in the morning and think, "I'm going to let him down today!" For starters I didn't like being him cruel to me so I wasn't about to do something to encourage his sadistic streak.

I think it's a fucking disaster when life gets in the way of ambitious people; don't you?

The problem is even there when it isn't someone's fault; when things go against me I sometimes feel like lashing out and often there's no one to lash out at. Take, for instance, a recent offer I had to do some work for a youth organisation in the county. I didn't get the job I applied for, but they were impressed enough to offer me some bank or session work. There was one catch; they didn't want to employ me, they wanted me to become self-employed and work as a contractor so that they wouldn't be responsible for anything from PAYE to sickness and holiday pay. It is a situation where an employer wants their cake and eats it.

Having a wife who is a taxman and a BMF who is an accountant this idea bothered them, but, you know, I'm not working and for all the financial stability we had it doesn't take long for that to become fragile, so any work would be good, especially if I could do enough hours to sign off of the dole. Then a series of information snippets were exchanged between me and a few knowledgeable people (plus my JCP PA) and if I become self-employed I can't claim any benefits. It's not even complicated; it's quite simple - self-employed people can't claim JSA and if you are working in that fashion, you are simply no longer unemployed therefore you can't claim any benefits. I would have needed to be guaranteed 13 hours work a week - taking into account travelling costs, incidentals and keeping some money back to pay a tax bill - to earn exactly the same as I get in JSA and guess what, they can't even guarantee me 3 hours a week at the moment, yet want me to surrender everything I get, which aint a lot anyhow, to do that?

I have another meeting about work today. At first it seemed just like a five or six week job, but after careful reading of the details I was sent it has become more and more obvious that the position is a voluntary one. There is no pay and when I approached the man doing the 'hiring', he just said, 'come in, let's talk about it," which I read as, yep it's a volunteer position perhaps I can persuade you that you should still do it. Fat chance.

I sometimes wonder if I have this big, invisible to me and close personal friends, neon sign above my head that says 'Use Me'.

The other side of the coin is my desire to do something with all the knowledge I've accrued over the years. The problem is I appear to have gained lots of experience in things that no longer work very well... Print and publishing might not be as dead as people thought, but the areas I have expertise in don't need a new magazine. I grew up in pubs and have had idea to make successful pubs for years, but, you know, 10 times as many pubs go out of business as become successful. And over the last 12 years or so, I made a career working with the young and disenfranchised. Now there's no money for these things, the best I can get is voluntary work - that's your Big Society for you - be proud working for nothing while you starve to death!

I can't believe someone who has had so many good ideas feels like he's just an extra in an allegorical play about landfill sites...

Effercio et Ineptias
  • Common courtesy behind the wheel of a car doesn't cost anything; it isn't time consuming and you are often not called a cunt by your unsuspecting victims.
  • I believe I am only watching Game of Thrones because the wife is. Every time I watch it I wonder where George RR Martin's integrity has gone and the wife reminds me that it's probably hidden under all the money he was given. I feel a bit underwhelmed by all TV at the moment, tbh.
  • I can be an unbelievable numbskull at times.
  • Highlight of the month so far: slowly burning in the Jazz Butcher's garden reminiscing, talking balls, magazines, bass players, cats, Chermans and wondering when he's going to buy himself a cafetiere that doesn't deposit half the coffee on the floor.
  • It hasn't escaped me I just don't want to tempt fate by talking about it.
  • I don't know if it's just the mood I've been in for weeks but I am still playing God Is An Astronaut to death. I have been playing them just about every day for over two months now and purchased my first album by them - using an Amazon gift voucher before you start thinking I'm being frivolous with my dole money. They have a new album coming out in September and Roger has offered to take me to see them. GIAA are post-rock, like Mogwai but good (with tunes).
  • I have also been heavily into David Bowie's albums between (and including) Young Americans and Scary Monsters.
  • I am sort of reading three books at once, but not. I am reading NOS 4R2 by Joe Hill, which is odd and weirdly disjointed unlike his previous novels. I also have his dad's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon in the loo and I'm several chapters into that. Plus I read the first part of the serialised King book The Green Mile but the film weighs too heavily on my memory at the moment. I'm trying to tell myself to think 'The Shining' and I'll realise that the book is different. The thing is, like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the film adaptation was that good...
  • I'd say my 2013 growing season has about a 70% success rate at the moment. We've got gooseberries, black and redcurrants that'll be ready by the end of next month; there will be raspberries but nowhere near the amount we had last year - and last year was shit and the new and established strawberry plants are so far behind what fruit I do get isn't going to happen for at least another 4 weeks, possibly longer. I would be very surprised to see any pick your own places before July and that's usually when the season is coming to a close. The nectarine has been decimated by some leaf crinkle; the apricot tree just looks like it would rather be in Fishwife's garden than ours; I don't count plums or apples but they are all well behind. Vegetables: my spuds are like the rest of everything, about 70%; a few haven't come up, while others are in need of being earthed up sooner rather than later. Beetroots are behind but alive. Tomatoes appear to be thriving but I'm rubbish with tomatoes so this'll end up being another exploded octopus of an attempt and the rhubarb doesn't look like it even knew it had been moved. None of my peppers have come up; one bean and that got eaten and no fennel at all. Now you can all sleep soundly tonight with that knowledge firmly tucked away...
  • One of my all-time favourite heroes and probably responsible for me winning more money on horses than I should have won died yesterday. Sir Henry Cecil - RIP.