Category Archives: General

On The Move….

Looks like I might need a new title for this blog – we’re moving house.
“Turn left at the bridge” is actually part of the directions for finding our current abode; from the end of next month, it’s going to be something like “Keep straight on, we’re the first house on the left.” Which is a tad too long for a blog title, I think. So I’ll keep the present title.
We’re not moving far, just a few miles. I hope we don’t have to do it again for a few more years – I’m stressed out already!

Review: Under The Dome

I read Stephen King’s Under The Dome when it first came out a couple of years ago; for me, it really was one of those books that you don’t want to stop reading. So when the recent TV adaptation came out, I made sure to start watching.
I nearly stopped watching after that first episode – the adaptation spiralled away from the book’s plot less than 15 minutes in; yes, a mysterious impenetrable dome dropped down over the town and trapped a diverse selection of Americans inside. But that, along with the names of the principal characters, was was pretty much the only similarity with the book. Characters changed drastically; for example the book-hero was a rootless Vietnam vet who just happened to be in town, while the TV-hero was a hired killer in town to carry off a hit. More disturbing was the change to the character of the teenage boy villain; in the book, he was just plain nasty, with an undiagnosed brain tumour making him even nastier. In the TV series, he was little more than a mixed-up kid with bad parenting, who just needed the love of a good woma- rather, girl. Not a good message to give out to impressionable young females!
I forced myself to watch three or four episodes, but just couldn’t get involved what was basically another attempt (like the pathetic FlashForward) to copy the formula of Lost. i.e., a multi-cast mystery/thriller with strong supernatural/SF elements, plus a plot that diverged ever further from the book.
The final straw came when I went online to read recaps of episodes that had already been shown in the US and discovered it just got even worse, with magic butterflies and mysterious crystals – plus, apparently, a second series!!
Nope. Enough was enough.

Book Review: A Departure

A Departure – Tom Ward (2013)

The cover strapline for this book was one of the things that made me think it might be worth reading. “Possibly the best young writer in this country – Tony Parsons”. After reading this load of nonsense, I’m wondering if Parson’s following line was something like “And possibly I am a tulip”. Another factor that made me click on the Buy button was the price; even for a Kindle book, 77p is amazingly cheap; all I can say is that I’m glad I wasted only 77p.
Also, I’m a sucker for apocalypse literature, the sort where global disaster strikes and the few remaining human survivors have to struggle to survive. In A Departure the catastrophe is a mysterious airborne contaminant that, in the space of minutes, kills most people in the UK and possibly globally as well.The book then follows Micheal Taylor, the hero, as he journeys from the North of England to the Sussex coast, in order to escape to France.
It’s not a completely terrible book. It’s readable – there are no typos, the grammar is correct, sentences are properly constructed, there are no noticeable continuity errors. But, oh my, what a lumpen read! It’s the sort of book that an 18-year old literature student would attempt after reading lots of Hemingway and Mailer. The 18-year old literature student hero is an obvious Mary Sue; there are lots of gory bits, lots of fighting, and the women are all caricatures and stereotypes – no, scrub that last. ALL the characters are caricatures and stereotypes; it’s just more obvious with the women. Either they’re helpless mums looking for a protective man, dotty old bags who despise teenage males, or fight-ready hotties straight out of an online game.
There are some delightful Throggisms such as “The boy tilted back his head to scream at the sky and words erupted from the hole in his face like sewage from a burst pipe.” And he describes the Sussex downs as “craggy hills”!
What’s even more annoying is the lack of world-building. If you’re going to write fiction that turns on a huge disaster, then you have to at least think about what effect this will have on the characters’ world – not just the lack of power and communications, the transport difficulties, how to get food and so on, but also the government’s reaction, the military’s reaction, the overall attempts to restore order. You might even do a little research – find out what measures the government has already prepared for large-scale emergencies, how long the national power grid and water supply is likely to last without humans, what sort of diseases are likely to break out, what happens when millions of corpses are left to rot in the streets.*
Ward seems to have hardly troubled himself with such matters; his characters don’t try to find working communication and power sources, or re-establish a working local government, or band together to protect food and medical supplies; none of them even come down with food poisoning. It’s not as if there aren’t already plenty of disaster novels to give him some ideas – The Stand, On The Beach, I Am Legend, Day of the Triffids are just the ones I can immediately think of; has he really never read any of these classics of the genre, noted how their characters reacted to the collapse of civilisation?
And none of his characters seems to have any idea of how to use the resources they do have. For example, when Micheal and the stragglers he has picked up suddenly come across a supermarket that still has full electricity, do they go “Find the staff kitchen, grab some of those microwave meals, we’ll have some hot food at last. And find out if the water’s still running – if not get those bottles of water and some electric kettles and heat up water for washing. Then we’ll find out where else the power is still on.”? Nope. They open up some tinned and packeted food and settle down in the aisles for a night’s snooze. To be fair, Michael does say that perhaps they should find a computer and see if the internet is still running, but another character tells him not to bother – and that’s that. That’s the only mention of the internet in the whole book btw, and I don’t think anybody even has a mobile. If it wasn’t for that, and a reference to global warming, the action may as well be taking place in the 1980s.
Michael is a hugely annoying character. In the first few chapters he constantly moans about having only a bottle of warm Coke to drink, when there’s nothing to stop him from taking bottled water from the shelves of the nearest grocery shop, or scooping up some water from one of the many streams and rivers he’ll have passed as he drives around. And he sleeps in the car when the countryside he’s going though is full of empty barns, farm buildings and holiday homes. It’s possible that Ward is trying to portray him as a typical clueless townie teenager who’s further rendered hard of thinking by stress and hunger. But if so, he failed; unfortunately, it comes across as cluelessness on the part of the author.
This authorial cluelessness is emphasised by his treatment of David, the other main character, who is introduced as a teacher of history. This should have presented Ward with a splendid excuse to tell us, via David, about previous disasters and about the extensive preparations every modern government makes for disaster – alternative means of power and communication, the sequestration of fuel and food sources, the establishment of an emergency governing committee, the role of the military and so on. But no. There is never another mention of history, or any indication that he was even an academic – only thumping great clues that he may actually be a Bad Man (this isn’t a spoiler; the clue-dropping starts early on and they’re hidden about as well as Chekov’s gun).
The book ends with Our Hero and his hot escapee-from-an-online-game girlfriend preparing to sail to France. Why? We’re not told (or maybe we were, in one of the tedious bits that I skipped over). Since there’s every indication that the rest of the world has gone the same way, it seems a pointless waste of time; it does, however, make a good hook for a sequel. If so, let’s hope that he has a good editor for it, somebody who can tell him to write about real people and real situations. And do some damm research.

*I remember an episode of the original TV series of Survivors, where somebody looking out from the top of a London tower block at night sees flickering phosphorescent gases rising up from ground level and is told that it’s “corpse gas” from all the unburied bodies. That’s an example of world-building research.

Evening…

It’s quiet and calm outside, nine-thirty and still full daylight. The solstice is past now and I’m conscious that the nights will very soon start lengthening again, racing inexorably towards the hours of darkness at next sun stand still. At my age, that’s no longer something to look forward to, it’s too much of a reminder of the dying of the light, the fate that waits for us all. Even though it’s still summer and there’s still greenery and warmth to enjoy.
I’m far too melancholy these days.

All ears

Update on the audiobooks: The Kindle cable I ordered finally arrived yesterday, a full week after I’d ordered it. When I went to the audible.co.uk site to find out how to download my book, I had a distinct Homer Simpsom moment – I’d been so determined to download onto my Kindle that I’d completely missed the several places informing me that I could download books onto my Ipod!
So that’s what I did. It was still a fiddle-faddle to set up, downloading the requisite software, telling it to download my book, then telling it to copy the file into the Itunes library. But 45 minutes later I had it and spent most of last night listening to the first part. It was as good as I had expected, with James MacPherson displaying a wide range of voices and accents, making it easy to distinguish characters. I think I may very well be buying more audiobooks.

Onto other matters: I’ll be changing the blog in the next few months. It’s been on WordPress ever since I started blogging properly, in January 2004; although I’m still happy with WP, the software is now getting big and complex for just a simple blog. So I’ll be moving it to the Ghost platform. It’s been developed by a team led by John O’Nolan, who I’ve been following on FB, Twitter and other sites for years. He’s been a WordPress developer as well as working on a number of highly successful commercial sites. I’m confident that he knows his stuff, which is why I stuck a tenner into his Ghost Kickstarter project. For that, I’ll get a copy of the Ghost software as soon as it’s released. It will be able to import WP blogs, so you’ll still be able to enjoy my archives of wit and wisdom.

Breakfast!

Breakfast

Wot I et this morning


So this morning, for breakfast, I decided on a change from my usual rather boring porridge and yogurt.
So here it is – scrambled eggs, a banana, and thick-sliced toast with yeast spread; there’s also a glass of apple juice that I forget to get in the shot. Pretty much all the nutritional requirements are there; I shouldn’t really be eating eggs, but I accidentally bought too many of them last week and I hate wasting food. There’s not much Vit C in evidence; but then, I’m a pretty weird sort of vegetarian. I loathe most fruit (except bananas) and I’m not especially fond of most vegetables (except for potatoes). But my diet’s been pretty much unchanged for nearly forty years, so it works for me.

“Whatever works for you” is pretty good guidance in life, I’ve found.

Clouds and Other Beasties…

Clouds over Yorkshire

Clouds over Yorkshire

So we went to a weekend camp in Yorkshire. Not the usual Oakleaf one, a smaller invitation-only camp. I had a better time than I thought I would. The weather was better than it might have been, only a few heavy showers for a day and half, quite a lot of sunshine the rest of the time. And I got to see some old faces and have a natter or three.
On the Sunday, we took an impromptu trip to Thirsk – we’d originally gone to Bedale to treat ourselves to a Chinese takeaway, found the place wouldn’t be open for another half-hour and said “OK, how are we going to pass the time?” And I decided I’d like to see the town where I’d lived for four years back in the late 70s/early 80s (and where we’d met…)
So off we went. And when we got there, I actually couldn’t recognise the place; the town centre seemed so much bigger – surely the street hadn’t been anything like that wide? And the layout was totally unfamiliar. There were a few buildings that I remembered – the library seemed to have been turned into a dance studio, the old Ritz cinema was tattier but still a cinema, the vet’s surgery (where my daughter had once taken a poorly hamster) was now the James Herriott Visitor Attraction, the laundrette where I’d taken my washing every Sunday morning was now a clothes shop…
We decided to go and look at the house where I had lived, on a council estate that had been on the edge of the town. Once I’d spotted the vets surgery- oops, the Visitor Attraction, I knew where I was; the road leading to the council estate was first left at the top of the street. Except that when we got to the top of the street, what had been a big open green space with the council estate tucked behind it, simply wasn’t there any more. Instead, there was just houses – lots of them. We drove hopefully down a side-road and got lost in the maze of little streets and cul-de-sacs. There was no sign of the older houses that I remembered. We were hungry; once we got back onto the main road, we decided to give up the search and go find a Chinese (we found the the Hung Moey in the Market Place; it has a decent vegetarian menu and serves enormous portions).
Well, they say you can’t ever go back. They may be right.
This morning I fired up Google Earth, found my old house and was able to take a good look at it on Street View. The little front garden is now concreted over – goodbye to the buddleia that I’d planted by the door – and the council has finally got around to properly fencing in the back garden so that local kids can no longer take a shortcut across what had once been my veg patch. But otherwise it looked pretty much the same on the outside; though no doubt the purple hallway and rainbow-coloured bedrooms have been redecorated with inoffensive flowered wallpaper…

Managed to get the 2013 Elfin Diary finished at last and zipped off to the printers. I feel quite proud of myself for having done nearly all nearly all of it myself; only the Chinese astrology article was by somebody else. Now I have to get on with the Astrological Association site; after that, the new design for the Elfin Diaries site, then marketing and selling the 2013 Diary; inbetween all that updating the badly neglected Oakleaf Circle site…
So I’m going to be very busy. Just as I’ve developed terrible toothache….

Back again…..

This site’s been offline for at least a week – down to some sort of weird DNS failure. So not only were peeps getting an error page when they tried to view this site, but no email was getting to me from my domain email address.
As you can see, it’s now fixed – thanks to my hosting company 34sp.com for their as-always-amazing tech support. I’m happy to give them a free ad – it took only two and a half hours from my first frantic email to getting my site back online, on a Friday night when I’m sure that they’d rather be out enjoying themselves.

Anyway, if you did try to email me last week and didn’t get a reply, I wasn’t ignoring you!

So Sweet…

So this morning, I got out of bed feeling like c**p – headachy, sinuses stuffed up, tired and aching. I’m waiting for an appointment to see an ENT specialist about my chronic sinusitis, but that will take weeks.
So I needed some cheering up. And I think I’ve managed it. Going through my emails, I found a Twitter notification that I was now being followed by somebody who described herself as a “Crystal Skull Explorer” (her capitalisation). Looking at her Twitter account, it was clear that she wasn’t exploring in the scientific sense.
I have no idea why such a person would decide to follow me. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the subject on Twitter; and in fact, I haven’t used Twitter for months (like Facebook, it was taking up far too much of my time). Wondering what to do about this follower, it struck me that I could put my Twitter account to some good use. It took me only a matter of minutes to find this article and tweet it, with an ambiguous description so that she would at least click on the link and read some of it..
That felt quite satisfying. Then I turned to my blog feed and immediately found a link to this wonderful comic strip. It incorporates everything I feel about science and the world of learning. So I tweeted that as well.
The Crystal Skull Explorer probably won’t read it, but you never know. But now I feel cheered up – I’ve done my good deed for the day.